Period film: Gangster Squad (2013)

(Image via Huffington Post)
(Image via Huffington Post)

“Every man carries a badge. Some symbol of his allegiance. His were the scars of a boxer who’d used his fists to climb the social ladder of the mob. A Jew who’d gained the respect of wops through a homicidal lust. He’d sworn an oath of violence. And his master? His own insatiable will to power. He wanted to own this town. His name was Mickey Cohen.”

When we meet the infamous Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), he’s boxing, and this narration by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is cluing us in on the violence to come. O’Mara is a veteran of the second World War, a man who “came back from the war and didn’t even recognize” the city of Los Angeles, which had fallen into corruption.

The year is 1949, and Mickey Cohen has a firm hold on the city, including all of its criminal activity. The courts and the cops are all on his payroll, and no one but John O’Mara is willing to cross him.

O’Mara is motivated by a wish to bring peace back to Los Angeles so he can raise his family there comfortably.

William Parker (Nick Nolte), Chief of Police, decides to put together a special unit led by O’Mara to bring that vision to life. O’Mara is joined by a handful of other cops, including Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who happens to be engaging in an affair with one of Cohen’s lady-friends (Emma Stone) and agrees to join the team after he sees one of Cohen’s men gun down a young shoe-polisher.

Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) directs 2013’s Gangster Squad, a violent, period crime drama. The film’s script was penned by Will Beall (TV’s Castle) from a novel by Paul Lieberman.

(Image via The Aristocrat)
(Image via The Aristocrat)

I’m going to be totally honest here: there are only two reasons I picked up this film for $1.98 on Black Friday last year. The first is that it’s set in the ’40s. We all know by now that I’m a total sucker for period films!

The second is that I love Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, both individually and as a pair. I think they’re two of the most talented folks working in Hollywood today. Their chemistry is not quite as good here as in Crazy, Stupid, Love. but they still make a great screen team and give solid performances.

Gangster Squad turned out to be not quite what I expected it to be. It contains some pretty brutal scenes of violence… or, at least, brutal to a whimp like myself. Suspense and terror are well-built, though. The film goes for big moments of action and shock more frequently than I expected it to. The slow-mo effects are a chuckle-inducing, but I appreciate the film’s campiness.

I think a lot of reviewers have made the mistake of taking this film too seriously. There’s such an obvious camp factor to it, between the script and the glossy sets/costuming. Visually, it’s a beautiful but cartoonishly exaggerated version of the past, which I’m completely okay with.

(Image via Collider)
(Image via Collider)

With all of the gloss and action the film’s story does falter a bit, but it’s still a generally engrossing watch. With a bit more attention to the script and playing to the strengts of the cast the film could have been a much more successful drama, but I still enjoyed watching it and am not upset that I spent a couple of bucks to blindly add it to my DVD collection. Bonus cool points for the use of a song by Imelda May! The score: 3.5/5

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