The Kansan - Newton, KS
by Garon Cockrell
Gangster Squad Review: Interrupter of Progress
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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

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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