It’s Los Angeles, 1949. Ruthless gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn in over-the-top-mode) has taken over the city—there’s brothels, booze and bad news all over. “I’m building a new city out of the ruins of Los Angeles,” says Cohen.
Corruption is the name of the game for everyone except Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), a honest cop in a crooked town. When LAPD Chief William Henry Parker (Nick Nolte) asks him to create a special undercover team to bring Cohen and his thugs to justice, O’Mara assembles the Gangster Squad, a group of cops who don’t mind getting their hands dirty.
“The Gangster Squad” will likely suffer from the inevitable comparisons to “The Untouchables” and “LA Confidential.” It grabs the atmosphere of post war LA from the latter and the storyline, almost beat for beat, from the former. There’s even a shoot out on a stairway, but this is a far more blunt object than either of it’s forbearers. In the first twenty minutes people are drawn and quartered, incinerated—apparently Cohen prefers medieval techniques—and there’s a vicious fistfight. Then it gets violent.
The film is possibly best known, not for its cast, which also includes Ryan Gostling, Emma Stone, Michael Peña and Giovanni Ribisi, but as the movie pulled from release following the Aurora, Colorado Century 13 massacre. Originally featuring a scene of gangsters randomly firing into a movie theatre, it was deemed inappropriate for release at the time. I’m not sure what they have replaced that scene with, but trust me, its removal hasn’t made the film any less violent in tone.
It’s a gorgeous looking film, with a pretty picture of LA’s glamorous nightlife and features dialogue by Will Beall who has clearly spent some time watching Raymond Chandler movies like “The Big Sleep.” Lines like “The whole city is underwater and you’re grabbing a bucket when you should be grabbing a bathing suit,” have more finesse than the story as a whole.
“The gangster Squad” is a period piece that spends a bit too much time exploring the down-and-dirty side of the story, but is an stylish look at a violent time.