Brash, loud and laughably anachronistic, highly stylised crime film Gangster Squad is flashier than a mobster’s suit, but if you’re not too fussy about finesse then it’s a hugely entertaining cops-’n-crooks romp through a cartoon-like version of 1940s Los Angeles history.
Very loosely based on actual events, the movie purports to tell how an elite band of two-fisted, straight-shooting cops fought Mob boss Mickey Cohen (played with hammy relish by Sean Penn) for the soul of LA. Josh Brolin’s war veteran John O’Mara is the square-jawed police sergeant looking to loosen Cohen’s grip on the city, even if it means stepping outside the law to succeed. His secret crew of LAPD outsiders comprises Giovanni Ribisi’s wiretapping expert; Robert Patrick’s quick-drawing lawman; Anthony Mackie’s knife-wielding patrolman and Michael Peña’s rookie cop. Last to join is Ryan Gosling’s slick, skirt-chaser Jerry Wooters, who initially takes a laid-back approach to LA’s crime wave, figuring that as the city is underwater then he’d rather reach for a bathing suit than a bucket. That, and the fact that he’s sleeping on the sly with Cohen’s moll, Emma Stone’s slinky redheaded Grace Faraday.
Don’t watch expecting subtlety; Ruben Fleischer’s direction is full of showy tracking shots and flashy edits – such as the brazen cut between a Mob victim’s bloody head and a sizzling slab of barbecue meat. Yet it’s all done with such shameless verve that if you can stomach the violence and suspend disbelief in the movie’s lurid pulp-fiction version of real events then it’s ridiculously enjoyable.
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