'Gangster Squad' has its pleasures
There is nothing like a dame and the seductress at the centre of Ruben Fleischer’s stylish crime thriller certainly sends temperatures soaring.
She beds two men on opposite sides of the law and ignites a powder keg of jealousy that threatens to raze 1940s Los Angeles to its corrupt foundations.
Based on the real-life battle for the streets of California’s most populated city, ‘Gangster Squad’ conjures memories of ‘The Untouchables’ with its tug of war between men who live by a badge and hoodlums who operate with their own twisted sense of morality.
Disappointingly, Fleischer’s film lacks the finely detailed characters and dramatic tension of Brian De Palma’s prohibition-era drama.
It also lacks a centrepiece sequence at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which originally depicted gun men shooting indiscriminately at an audience from behind the screen.
In the wake of the shooting at a midnight screening of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ in Aurora, Colorado, film-makers chose to remove this set piece entirely and added a newly conceived gunfight on the streets of Chinatown.
The bloodbath has gone but Fleischer’s picture doesn’t skimp on the brutality.
In a wince-inducing opening salvo, a henchman is tethered between two cars which screech off in opposite directions and pull the sap in two.
The maniacal kingpin behind this bloodshed is one-time boxer Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who rules over Los Angeles with his gang.
Police chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) is powerless to stop the rise of this criminal fraternity so he approaches Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to establish a covert team of officers, who are willing not only to bend the law but also to break it in order to crush Cohen.
O’Mara recruits his good friend Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) and cops Rocky Washington (Anthony Mackie), Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi) and Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) for this dangerous assignment as part of the newly formed Gangster Squad.
In turn, Kennard introduces a sharp-shooting protégé, Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena), and the scene is set for a battle royale between the team and the hoodlums.
The mission is compromised when suave ladies’ man Wooters falls under the spell of Cohen’s squeeze, actress Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), and takes her to bed.
One night of lust signs Grace’s death warrant, should Cohen ever discover her betrayal.
‘Gangster Squad’ trades style over substance but Fleischer’s dramatisation of bullet-riddled history has its undeniable pleasures.
Brolin and Gosling are solid and the latter continues to catalyse fizzing on-screen chemistry with Stone after the sexy rom-com ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’.
Penn chews scenery with obvious relish but no subtlety, while impeccable production design evokes the era when sharp-suited men traded bullets and polished one-liners beneath the iconic Hollywoodland sign.
Star Rating: 3/5