‘Gangster Squad’ surprises with relative realism

Atreyo Ghosh

Walking into Gangster Squad, I expected an action film filled with guns, violence and explosions. I anticipated a movie where the plot didn’t matter, and people were slaughtered by the boatload. I predicted a movie that cut to a new scene when something gruesome happened. I thought bullets wouldn’t touch any of the good guys but for one, who would die a token death for symbolism or some dramatic irony.
I was pleasantly surprised.
While most modern action movies are simply one-liners with violence and explosions, Gangster Squad presented quite a different tale. While rife with humor, some unnecessary, the plot, while rushed and not fully fleshed out, regardless had my heart pounding during the movie’s final assault.

Image used under fair use doctrine
Image used under fair use doctrine
Sean Penn (Milk) plays Mickey Cohen, a ruthless mob boss with a huge ego who “rules” Los Angeles, Calif. Erratic and rather cruel, Cohen keeps a tight grip on L. A., having corrupted cops and judges alike. Those who cross him typically die. Painfully. Burned alive. Pulled in half by cars. Bored by automatic drill.
A World War II veteran, Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin, True Grit), is one of few “good cops” in the town, not afraid to serve justice on Cohen’s turf, hunting down and beating up mobster, would-be rapists early in the movie. O’Mara finds and leads a number of similar individuals to end Mickey Cohen’s bloodthirsty reign. Joining him is the humorous WWII veteran Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling, Crazy, Stupid, Love), a police officer who has gone with the flow until Cohen’s actions personally touch a nerve. The cops use their guns only when necessarily, opting to use fists and the environment to enact revenge when feasible.
The movie does a stellar job at portraying O’Mara’s relationship with his wife, who disapproves of his escapades but helps him out, but fails spectacularly in creating a relationship between Wooters and Grace Faraday (Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man), who is trapped in Cohen’s inner-circle. After the two meet and share one night together, Wooters and Faraday are seemingly in love, and Wooters flirts with her and takes care of her throughout the movie. Their hastily cobbled together romance, while an entertaining plot point to follow, is heavily underdeveloped and wants for depth.
Despite its shortcomings, the movie easily sets itself apart as a gem in the action genre through grim and gruesome realism. Blood is never in short supply as bullets spray throughout the movie, sometimes hitting the innocent as well as the guilty. No one is safe, as Cohen sets a trap in a certain part of the city and well-meaning street urchins are killed in cross-fire. The good guys don’t have an invisible shield that saves them from death, and when they die, it hits squarely in the heart. Cohen’s heartlessness is revealed as he plots attacks on the families of the cops involved, spewing profanity and ordering death in equal measure.
Most impressively, unlike many other action movies, Gangster Squad culminates in a final showdown that doesn’t seem to artificially appear. At this point, the team goes on an all-out strike against Cohen, resulting in a dramatic and personal face-off between an incensed O’Mara and crazy as ever Cohen. Wooters and the team, along with a once-corrupt cop, strike back and put their lives on the line.
The movie has its flaws, but with a cast of some truly horrific mobsters and heroic cops and a dash of a high-adrenaline plot, it delivers an entertaining evening.
By Atreyo Ghosh
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