© Warner Bros. Pictures Germany

Gangster Squad
U.S.A. 2012

Opening 24 Jan 2013

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Writing credits: Will Beall, Paul Lieberman
Principal actors: Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin, Holt McCallany

WWII vets are struggling to reenter society; maverick Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) laments that all he knows now is how to fight. An enterprising East Coast smarter-than-most thug is setting himself up as the LA kingpin; key judges, police, and press have acquiesced to his persuasion. Organized crime out of Chicago is trying to move in. And wolves howl for more of what Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn embodies this nihilistic, obtuse predator) offers. It is 1949 in Los Angeles, California, USA.

O’Mara helps a naive LA newcomer, tangling with Cohen’s hoodlums; colleagues shake their heads at his naiveté. Bathing his bruises later, his pregnant wife (Mireille Enos) declares, “John, you go looking for it every time you leave this house” and, albeit he is a good honest man, reminds him “we’re expecting company”. Ex-boxer Cohen dresses expensively, has a hillside mansion and sophisticated Grace (Emma Stone) for window-dressing, as he sets the scenario for winning his biggest match: with heroin and west of the Rockies as the purse, he anoints this sure win “progress”. Meanwhile, Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) talks to O’Mara “about the war for LA … enemy occupation … destroy his operation, drive him out of LA”, albeit “you’re off the books”. Securing players – four with brawn and one brain – of other police misfits – handpicked by a surprising ally – O’Mara and team set out to save LA.

The script’s minimal surprises and director Fleisher’s nimiety of tommy-guns are unfortunate, but distract not from impressive performances, and the overall mesmerizing attention to detail: costumes – Mary Zophres (everyone looks prettier, handsomer), sets – Gene Serdena, production design – Maher Ahmad, and art direction – Mark Hunstable, Timothy David O'Brien, and Dean Wolcott. Finding the right camera angle (especially with location shots) with oftentimes-tricky lighting were Dion Beebe’s challenges. Although not as impressive as other gangster-cop genre films (Chinatown, LA Confidential), and bullet-riddled, the action clips along and, the City of Angels survive the mob. (Marinell Haegelin)

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