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Gangster Squad is a classic gangster film in a L.A. setting that entertains with flashy gun play and Wild West antics but falls short of being original.
The film draws from a 1940s historical event, building a romanticized story line around a group of L.A. cops who took down the gangster Mickey Cohen. The set-up revolves around Mickey Cohen’s attempts to take over Los Angeles through drugs, prostitution, and off-track betting. While Mickey Cohen pushes to establish his wire betting operation, the off-the-book cops led by Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) must burn down Cohen’s empire before he gets his new operation underway and gains a permanent stronghold in California.
While the historical storyline is new, the film does not separate itself from better gangster films like Road to Perdition, Scarface, or the Untouchables. In fact, many character attributes and scenes resemble previous films that set a higher standard. Consider Mickey Cohen’s character. The mob boss is defined through brutality and a lust for power, hardly new attributes. The only unique quality of Cohen’s character is his boxing past, which is foreshadowed throughout the film, hinting at the final boxing battle between Sergeant John O’Mara and Mickey Cohen (Lethal Weapon anyone?) Also, images of the Untouchables’ train station scene reflects in Gangster Squad’s hotel gunfight.
Aside from the somewhat recycled content, the other downside to the film is its comical embodiment, despite the serious content the story wants to weave. That is not to say there aren’t serious parts, rather some of the romanticized instances of the film try too hard to entertain a Wild West theme. This is partly due to the somewhat fantasy-like characters, like the old gun-slinger Max (Robert Patrick) and the knife-throwing Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie). On occasion the film tries to tone down the gangster battles with an emotional twist involving the families of the police officers, but these are minimal and aren’t sufficient in creating a balance.
However, this is not to say the film doesn’t deliver entertainment. The all-star cast of Sean Pean, Josh Brolin, Ryan Goslin, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi, and Michael Pena pushes realism into their acting roles, despite the somewhat uncertain storyline. The music score, props, and wardrobe set an excellent 1940s atmosphere as well.
Perhaps, the major flaw of the film is that its trailer made it appear as something more, but it is not. I give it a 6.5 out of 10 stars.