Warner Bros. Pictures released “Gangster Squad” on Jan. 11, 2013, but the film was originally due to hit theaters on Sept. 7, 2012. The release date was moved back after the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., in July. At that time, all trailers were pulled from television and the internet, and Warner Bros. chose to reshoot certain scenes.
The film stars Josh Brolin as Sgt. John O’Mara, Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen, Ryan Gosling as Sgt. Jerry Wooters and Emma Stone as Grace Faraday. It is set in Los Angeles in 1949. Directed by Ruben Fleischer, the film is based on a true story about mob king Mickey Cohen, who holds power in both the legal and illegal circles of LA.
Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte), the head of the Los Angeles Police Department, puts O’Mara in charge of an undercover unit with the sole objective of stopping Cohen and his mob. O’Mara’s wife, Connie (Mireille Enos), helps put together a unit of six men who call themselves the Gangster Squad.
The film tells the true story of the victory and heartache that these vigilantes experience as they struggle to serve justice to Cohen.
In the opening scene, Cohen is shown standing over a man whose arms and legs are chained to two pickup trucks. At Cohen’s signal, the trucks accelerate in opposite directions and rip the man apart. This is the first of many violent scenes of the movie that keep it moving fast. With fewer action scenes, the film would have little substance.
The character development is the weakest aspect of “Gangster Squad.” Viewers struggle to understand why characters behave the way they do, and because there are so many violent scenes, the dialogue is lacking as well. For example, both O’Mara and Wooters are war veterans, which isn’t manifested in their decisions and actions. Did Wooters’ war experience have anything to do with his initial refusal of the job? Why did O’Mara and Wooters become cops? Was their bond due to shared experiences? These questions are left unanswered.
The weakest character is Grace Faraday. She is portrayed as no more than a damsel in distress. Her historical character is Cohen’s lover, a woman kept around to look pretty, and her theatrical character serves a similar function. Faraday is in the film to look nice and add a few romance scenes. Stone and Gosling worked well together in “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” but in “Gangster Squad” their interactions are awkward.
There are better crime films available, but “Gangster Squad” is worth watching, even simply as an educational representation of the power struggle in post-WWII LA.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars