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by Garon Cockrell
Gangster Squad Review: Interrupter of Progress
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By Garon Cockrell
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Jan. 11, 2013 5:15 p.m.

Reuben Fleischer's adaptation of Paul
Lieberman's Gangster Squad reminds me
a little of LA Confidential in that
it's set in 1950's Los Angeles, revolves around a group of LAPD detectives/cops,
and has a big bad controlling Los Angeles through corruption and violence.
If LA Confidential was the
brains of 1950's LA cop films, then Gangster
Squad is definitely the brawns. And that's not necessarily a bad
thing, but don't expect to see anything special or new.<>
The film circles around Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn)
as a retired world champion boxer who climbs the social and organized crime
ladder with brute force. This is evident
from the moment we meet him, when he's tearing into an East Coast mobster, and
I don't mean figuratively, to send a message that this is his town. <>
There isn't much to Cohen's character and the
way Sean Penn plays him doesn't elicit any sympathy for him, either. He's
one shade of grey, mainly due to aging, but also because he's no more than a
caricature of a mobster. This is not the rise of Michael Corleone.
This is not a love letter to John Dillinger. It isn't even Analyze This. You won't find any
degrees of characterization like you have had in classic Mafioso films or even
TV shows. Whatever strides our Golden Age of television have made with the
misunderstood mobster like Tony Soprano or Nucky Thompson are gone with Mickey
Cohen's character. He's the "interrupter of progress" and it's
a shame because it could have elevated this pulp film had we understood him a
little bit more, but alas this film is not about Mickey Cohen. Never was.<>
The movie is about the Gangster Squad, and if that title doesn't echo Scooby Doo Gang, especially with that font, I don't know what will.
Fuck yeah! America! Oh, wrong movie.
The Gangster Squad consist of Josh Brolin's square-jawed
square of a cop, Sgt. John O'Mara, or Sarge, who like Russell Crowe's Bud
White, is brutish with a soft spot for a damsel in distress. He has a
code of honor and cannot be bought. He has a lovely wife who is with
child. He fought valiantly in World War II, distinguished with two purple
hearts, and other medals for bravery and courage. Yet, all is for naught
because you just don't care about him. He's our hero, yet he's as
interesting as a brick in a brick house.
"Yes, sir, I'll take that squad now. No, sir, I will not smile."
Unfortunately, for these veteran actors, I donít think there was much to
work with.
When Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) recruits Sgt.
O'Mara to form an off-the-books vigilante squad to bring down Mickey Cohen, OíMara
builds his team with cops that cannot be bought, those without fancy degrees or
potential for promotions. Enter the B
team: Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribsi, and Michael Pena, who are
more skill sets than actual characters, each one with a special identity, such
as being the quickest draw in the West, being a knife throwing ninja, being the
brains and apparently just being Mexican? While they tend to be pretty forgettable,
except for a few good lines and moments, the ensemble does work and it makes
for a pretty fun ride as they go from pretty inept to straight down badass.
Whether you like the genre, this film really is
about the team and their mission, reminding you of the Dirty Dozen or the Oceanís
Eleven team. The fun comes from the camaraderie
and their unified efforts. Itís actually
nice seeing the good guys kicking some ass for most of the film, having the
underdogs win for a change.<>
The only exception to the lack of interesting
characters is OíMaraís cop buddy, Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who he
initially tries to sway on board his team.
The problem is that Jerry just doesn't care anymore. This isn't his war. Plus, Jerry just met red hot Grace (Emma
Stone), Cohen's etiquette teacher who knows her way around a steak knife and
dessert spoon, and let's just say Jerry is dessert and she loves to spoon. Gosling and Stone's chemistry again is magnetic and she is
sultry and gorgeous as ever.<>
"I'm so method, you're not even there, Emma." "Seriously, Ryan?"
Jerry plays the perfect foil to OíMara in the
movie, spitting out smart ass one-liners for every grunt and scowl OíMara pans
out. I do like that they donít force a
father and son dynamic onto this relationship, which has been done to hell with
cop films. One of the things that this
film does right is making them equals. Unlike
a lot of the relationships in the film, the only ones that seem to matter were
the ones that Jerry usually had, whether it was with Sullivan Stapletonís Jack
Whalen or Stoneís Grace Faraday or Ribisiís Conway Keeler. This is because Gosling, even with his odd accent
choice that sounds like Mickey Mouse (I guess the days as a Mousekateer have
finally paid off), elevates the scene and the emotional connection to the
characters, more than the veteran actors he shares the bill with.
A lot of it has to do with the small acting choices
he makes, like his voice or the way he flips open his lighter Ė you see an
actor who isnít afraid to take risks. The
irony is that as jarring as Goslingís voice is at first, it makes you pay
attention to how Gosling delivers his lines and makes you understand why
Gosling is becoming one of our generation's most dynamic actor. He pulls it off with pizzazz like everything
else he does in the film. <>
Going back to the film, it isnít until Jerry
sees the death of a child, one that he kind of fancies in his ďbeat it, kidĒ
kind of way, that he has a change of heart and joins the Gangster
Squad. From there on, itís a full on war to take down
Cohen and his reign to regain the soul of Los Angeles<>
If anything, Jerryís ďcall to actionĒ is the
quintessential example of how predictable this story is. You would think this would kill a film like this, but
surprisingly it survives due to a defibrillator team of editors. I give them kudos for making the film so
kinetic that one actually forgets that no character is in any actual danger
during any of the action sequences. The
action sequences do provides a good amount of thrills. I caught myself squirming at the edge of my
seat a few times as the Gangster Squad crashed and burned Cohenís empire to the
ground, especially when Jerry was involved.<>
"Holy shit, that gun is missing everybody."
Director Reuben Fleischer does seem to have knack for
the visually appealing, like Zach Snyder, and it isnít lost in this movie. While itís pretty cool to see someoneís body
vibrate as he shoots a Tommy Gun in slow motion, it starts to be excessive and
gimmicky by the time the final shoot out happens. The violence is definitely over the top and it
earn its R-rating admirably, whether itís with Pennís profuse use of profanity
or bullet-riddled bodies strewn across streets or brains splattered on windows.<>
But for all the fun you might have watching it,
it doesnít leave much of an impact, fading away by the time you exit the
theater. If you are looking for
something to watch this weekend, Iíd suggest catching up on your Oscar nominees
instead of this - definitely a RedBox rental.<>

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