Right in the middle of a typical Cabana Night performance, a shootout breaks loose from behind the stage, behind the bar and all around the room. Gangsters and cops are firing everywhere. Good guys and bad guys. "Gangster Squad" was the classic noir tale circa 1949 Los Angeles.
That, of course, was a golden era for mobsters. The new bad guy moves into town, has to make an example and mark his territory to make a name for himself.
Sure, there have been plenty of these types of movies. "Gangster Squad" didn't bring a revolution to the genre. But the movie was a fully-fledged, thought-out enactment that mixed modern-looking Wild Wild West shootouts, old-school espionage (which mainly consisted of wire tapping a television to hear bad guys' conversations) and (possibly) crooked cops banding together for the common good.
A rag-tag team of policemen is assembled to make a stand against Mickey Cohen (based on the real-life gangster who had both Jewish and boxing roots, though the former wasn't touched on much). Cohen, played fantastically by Sean Penn, is the nasty type who wants to take over the west coast and kill anyone and his or her family, friends and pets that oppose him along the way. Cohen's angle involves controlling communications and gambling, which will make him rich along the way.
Officer John O'Mara is the first to want to make a stand against Cohen. O'Mara, played wonderfully by Josh Brolin, is the typical "For honor and duty" type who makes his job more a priority than his wife at times (which stirs up a nice side story with her). First of all, Brolin is quickly moving up the list of top actors. He was great in Men In Black III last year, and has received praise for his roles in movies such as "True Grit", "W." and "No Country For Old Men" to name a few. Brolin embodies the loyal-dog attitude that his character requires amid the internal turmoil and corruption police squads dealt with at the time (Whether things have really changed since then is a separate topic altogether).
O'Mara even tries to team up with Sgt. Jerry Wooters (played by Ryan Gosling), another cop who used to believe in good ideals, but has since contemplated given up the good fight. Eventually, the two join forces along with a few other stereotypical teammates, including a six-shooting ace, a tech-savy smart guy and a couple other brave men with guns.
The story wouldn't be complete without Cohen's dame playing a role in the story. Grace, played by the lovely Emma Stone, is not your typical main squeeze, though. She is manipulative and enticing. Wooters and Grace can't resist their attraction for each other, which doesn't sit well with Cohen. Gosling and Stone have great on-screen chemistry yet again (they were great together in "Crazy, Stupid Love).
At times, it's difficult to tell how serious "Gangster Squad" really wants to be. The shootouts are pretty over-the-top. The bad guys can't hit anything (well, there's a token casualty here and there on the good guys' side). At one point, Gosling's character talks about how the cops are no different than the gangsters, and even newspaper headlines evoke vigilante sentiments, but the surface of this moral qualm is barely scratched. Cheesy, unoriginal lines are peppered throughout the movie. Characters aren't too deep, but they don't really need to be. On the other hand, the tapestries and cinematography were spot-on. Almost too much, actually; it screams cliché. In the end, "Gangster Squad" teeters the fine line of a good drama and a 'B'-rated flick.
Perhaps that served the movie well, though.
Jeremy Costello is the Gazette Sports Editor and the Entertainment Guru. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.