Crime, Treachery and Butchery in 1940s
By Skip Sheffield
“Gangster Squad” makes “
look like child’s play.
“Chinatown” if you remember was a dark tale of crime and civic corruption in late 1930s
“Gangster Squad” is an even darker tale of high-level crime and political corruption in late-1940s
Angeles. Scarier still, it is based on real-life
Sean Penn plays the chief bad guy, the treacherous, despicable, murderous mob leader, Mickey Cohen. Penn does not hold back. He is like a rabid dog.
Director Rueben Fleischer establishes the ruthless, sadistic character of Cohen in the first few frames of the film. As he begs pitifully for mercy, a
gangster is chained to two cars facing opposite directions. With one last
desperate scream from the mobster, Cohen orders the two drives to floor it. The
victim is ripped in half.
“Gangster Squad” is the kind of film that makes you cringe, flinch and maybe cover your eyes. The film is so violent it was delayed in the wake of the
massacre because one of the key violent scenes took place in a movie theater.
It is now an equally violent scene set in Chinatown.
Square-jawed Josh Brolin stars as Sgt. John O’Mara, the ultimate tough-guy Los Angeles Police Department cop.
O’Mara is hand-picked by Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte, more gravelly than ever) to put together an undercover police unit charged with fighting Mickey Cohen with his own violent, vengeful tactics.
“No names, no badges, no mercy,” the Chief says.
O’Mara is married to pretty, very smart Connie (Mirielle Enos), who is pregnant with their first child. When her pleas to not take on the challenge are disregarded, she elects to help her husband by suggesting the best candidates possible for a squad of a half-dozen Dirty Harrys. One of them is Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), an absolutely fearless and incorruptible cop. How fearless? Jerry makes a pass at Cohen’s favorite girlfriend Grace Faraday (Emma Stone, trying to look tough) and she takes him up on it.
We don’t get to know the other cops as well as they are pretty stereotypical. Three who stand out are Giovanni Ribisi as the brainy family man Conway Keeper, Robert Patrick as the self-styled cowboy Max Kennard and Michael Pena as the obligatory Latino, Navidid Ramirez.
There really was a mobster named Mickey Cohen who tried to take over
evil purposes, and there really was an LAPD Chief named Bill Parker, who
organized an elite squad to fight fire with fire. This is simply that true story
amped up with violence and gore. You could say it is a sign of the times.