“Gangster Squad” Dazzles, Nothing Amazing

Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen in "Gangster Squad."

HOLLYWOOD—It has been sometime since a gangster flick has hit multiplexes.  “Gangster Squad” which chronicles the tale of Mickey Cohen and his reign over the city ofLos Angelesduring the 1940s and 1950s brings a well-comprised vision of LA during those golden days.  While the title may give off the impression the movie is about Mickey Cohen and his associates, it’s actually the tale of a secret group of officers put together by the LAPD to take down Cohen portrayed by Sean Penn.  Penn does indeed fill the shoes of the villain with make-up that is reminiscent of characters from the movie “Dick Tracy.”

Cohen is indeed a powerful man, with influence in the streets as well as in the courts with his ability to bribe officers and other high ranking officials.  He’s looking to expand his empire to other cities like Chicago and New York, but not if Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) has anything to say about it.  He enlists the help of several officers in creating a secret unit to take down Cohen and his gang of criminals.  That group consists of Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Detective Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Detective Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña) and Detective Max Kennard (Robert Patrick).

While Brolin is the leader of the pack, it’s Gosling as Wooters who is the suave charmer.  He has charisma that allows him to easily immerse himself in situations, even those that can get him killed, like Cohen’s girlfriend Grace Faraday (Emma Stone).  She is quite the sex-kitten; in fact she’s the only female player in the entire picture.  Being surrounded by so much testosterone should affect Faraday’s character, but it doesn’t.  She’s more of the damsel in distress, waiting for someone to rescue her from all the chaos surrounding her. Stone isn’t given the opportunity to shed more light on the character beyond what is presented on the screen; she’s eye-candy for the male audience.

Penn however, does infuse some evil antics into his character, while he isn’t a dead ringer for Cohen, if you met him on the street he’s not someone you would double cross, because it might cost you your life.  The squad is indeed able to slowly decipher Cohen from the inside, but casualties do occur along the way.  What I thoroughly enjoyed about the picture is the scenery that is a dead-ringer forLos Angelesin the 1940s and 1950s: the fashion, the cars, the people, it’s all a hoot to watch on the screen.

As for the action, “Gangster Squad” does not disappoint.  The violence is in your face, there are some epic car chases and one-on-one fist fights that remind you of the glory days.  The problem with the picture is its failure to provide anything in terms of character development, its pretty flat here.  The chemistry between Gosling and Stone is not as convincing as one would expect from the duo.  It’s a movie that elicits a bit of conversation, but after you leave the theater, you won’t be talking about “Gangster Squad” that much.

By LaDale Anderson