Gangster Squad Review

Every man wears a badge, at least they do in the black and white world John O’Mara exists in.

O’Mara is a policeman every bit as imposing as his square jaw and even squarer brow would suggest; in fact, he’s a bona fide american hero who previously served his country with great distinction in the war.

Which war is anyone’s guess mind, but Gangster Squad doesn’t really bother with the small details.

Of course, the war’s over now and O’Mara’s getting back to life as a rank and file officer in the dirty town of Los Angeles, only his one man fight against the crooked and corrupt system he finds himself in doesn’t go down well with his less principled colleagues who’re in the pocket of sadistic mob boss Mickey Cohen.

O’Mara’s alpha male efforts haven’t gone unnoticed in the higher echelons of hell a’s police department though, and he’s soon heading up a covert squad of police officers who’re tasked with taking the fight to Mickey Cohen and his mobster cohorts.

Based on true events, Gangster Squad is a luscious looking tale from 1940’s america that hits you like one of the many right hooks thrown throughout this film.

With a quite literally rip-roaring scene to open things up, we’re graphically introduced to Sean Penn’s incarnation of the scourge of Los Angeles, jewish mob boss Mickey Cohen.

Now I used to be a fan of Penn’s acting style, with his memorable supporting turns in both Carlito’s Way and Casualties Of War stealing plenty of scenes from the intended leading men of these films, but success seems to have turned Penn into a ridiculous parody of his method acting style.

From going full tard in I Am Sam, Robert Downey Junior’s words not mine, to his ridiculous character of Cheyenne in This Must Be The Place via a mincing portrayal of Harvey Milk and the biopic Milk, I haven’t seen Penn play anyone other than “Sean Penn: Oscar Award Winning Actor” for a decade.

And Mickey Cohen’s no exception, as the man who would be our method acting king slips into full on gangster mode with another one dimensional caricature of a human being that’s louder and bigger than anything else in the room.

If only it was better too.

Penn might have found it a whole lot easier to pull off the whole psychotic gangster trick if he hadn’t plucked around half his eyebrows clean off for this role too.

In stark contrast to Penn, he’s so hot right now Ryan Gosling plays it soft and understated for his cooler than cool Sergeant Jerry Wooters, understanding that less is sometimes more when playing a part.

The rest of the cast reads like a who’s who of hollywood’s best supporting players; from Josh Brolin’s nice but dim strongman John O’Mara, Emma Stone as the Jessica Rabbit-esque damsel in distress Grace Faraday to Nick Nolte’s grizzled Police Chief Parker and plenty more besides.

With a cast like this, I’d hoped Gangster Squad would be as good as it looks, but the script just doesn’t live up to the stunning costumes, sets and high octane action on display here.

While there are almost as many cracking one liners to match the bullets flying around in a show that would make the NRA stand to attention, there’s no real depth to support this.

So all you’re left with is a bunch of very pretty and beautifully turned out one dimensional character’s you simply can’t take seriously.

Gangster Squad can be big fun and is a treat for the eyes when you’re not shielding them from some vacuously and gratuitous over the top violence.

But if I have to wear a badge, it’ll come in glorious techni-colour or even fifty shades of grey, not black and white.

Jonathan Campbell

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January 2013
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