Los Angeles, 1949. Ruthless, Brooklyn-born mob king Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) runs the show in this town, reaping the ill-gotten gains from the drugs, the guns, the prostitutes and—if he has his way—every wire bet placed west of Chicago. And he does it all with the protection of not only his own paid goons, but also the police and the politicians who are under his control. It’s enough to intimidate even the bravest, street-hardened cop…except, perhaps, for the small, secret crew of LAPD outsiders led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who come together to try to tear Cohen’s world apart.
Before I start let me just say, yes, I know this isn’t a film that our readers would normally expect us to cover. However, the studio was nice enough to invite us to a press screening so we wanted to give our review.
I have to admit, I broke my own rule before watching a film for the first time. I made up my mind about if I was going to enjoy it or not. While the trailers always kept me interest there were a few things that we also making me hesitate. One being some of the stylized camera techniques being used is some of the shots. Those shots seemed to be peppered liberally throughout the trailers and I began to wonder if the entire film was going to be that way. Needless to say my expectations began to drop and I decided I probably wasn’t going to enjoy the film as much as I originally thought.
I have to admit, I was completely wrong! GANGSTER SQUAD is a brutal, earnest, and ultimately fun movie going experience for those who enjoy the early 20th century gangster films. Early reviews have not been kind and I consider that to be truly unfortunate. Never have I gone into a film expecting to not like it and come out with a completely different reaction. Obviously I cannot speak to what other reviewers’ expectations were going into this film but clearly we don’t agree.
The performances of all the lead actors are solid. Nothing is earth shattering but I think they all did a fine job. Mireille Enos did an absolutely superb job in her role as Connie O’Mara wife to John O’Mara played by Josh Brolin. Gosling, Brolin, Penn, and Stone all perform admirably in their roles as well.
One thing I did not expect to see from this film was the amount of humor it contained. I don’t think I have ever laughed as much watching a gangster style film. Maybe that’s one reason some reviewers were turned off to the film, but I found it genuinely refreshing. It’s quite a contrast between the humor and downright brutal violence in some of the scenes but ultimately I thought it flowed well.
Given the negative reviews this will not be a film that is mentioned with the great gangster films of our time. Of course this isn’t in the same league as a movie like THE UNTOUCHABLES or GOODFELLAS but I must ask the question; was anyone really expecting it to be? I never got the impression this was a film even attempting to dethrone any of the classic gangster films. I just thought it was a gangster film with a really good cast, trying to make an enjoyable movie going experience. In my opinion, that’s exactly what they accomplished.
I think it’s definitely worth checking out in the theaters but if the other reviews make you hesitant then at the very least check it out upon its home release. I’m fairly confident if you go in expecting to have a good time, you will.