Gangster Squad (15)

Directed by Ruben Fleischer
On release from 10th January 2013
Showing at FACT, Wood Street till 31st Jan 2013

Reviewed by Joe Coventry


Vacuous and full of mindless violence, directed by Ruben Fleischer, the film is still worth seeing. Beautifully shot in vibrant colour and with much attention to period detail and costumes to match, there is a lot for the eye to feast on.

Although based on a true story the plot is hopelessly skewed to the improbable: a covert group of elite cops led by ex-army and now an incorruptible police Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is tasked by steadfast Commissioner (Nick Nolte) with dismantling the criminal organisation of sadistic Cosa Nostra rising star, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn).

The hand- picked team, a sort of modern day Magnificent Seven, (six men and O’Mara’s pregnant wife), clumsily and ineptly at first, take on the bourgeoning gangster empire. They hone their skills as more successful forays against the prostitution, drugs and gambling rackets drive the ex- featherweight champion into paroxysms of brutality against his own failing lieutenants.

The paradox of good fighting evil to save 1949 Los Angeles is that the team cause as much damage to the city’s art deco infrastructure as the machine-gun toting mob ranged against them. The brains of the group is homely family man and proto-surveillance expert (Ribisi). He bugs Cohen’s TV set enabling the overheard discussions to be acted on.

Cohen suspects a rat when a money storage unit is burnt to the ground and he realises it is not his East Coast counterparts who are undermining him but the law. Suspecting everyone, including his classy moll (Emma Stone) who is two-timing with Squad chancer (RyanGosling), the charismatic front man of Slapsie Maxies takes the hit for her as Cohen sets up a China Town sting of his own which has disastrous consequences.

More in the tradition of Batman than Elliot Ness the finale sees the hero overcome insuperable odds enabling the good folk of LA to turn their minds to every day concerns.

Nice picturesque credits accompanied by Steve Jablonsky’s empathic soundtrack add to the spectacle. It was never like this, but it’s a mesmerising watch in many ways.

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