The scene is post war 1940s, a lush Hollywood noir back drop. Gangster Mob-boss Micky Cohen (Sean Penn) is pushing his own drug and prostitution rackets, moving away from his Chicago peers, and trying to create his own LA Empire. Enter Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), the shining moral compass of this story. Despite being a man of compelling action, O’Mara is aware how ineffective his low level arrests have on this gangster empire.
His superior, Chief Parker (Nick Note), approaches the Sergeant with a proposition: wage an unsanctioned guerrilla war on these gangsters from the shadows. And like that O’Mara begins recruiting his rag tag unofficial police team: a gunslinger, his apprentice, a knife welding beat cop, an ex-military communications expert, and fellow college and charmer Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling). From here the gang conduct tactical raids on Cohen’s organisation.
So far, this all sounds reminiscent of a film we’ve seen a hundred times before, correct? And you know what, it is. It’s a very obvious recipe that the filmmakers are following. The content is like an action film check list, including an unfortunate amount of ‘Zack-Snyder-slowmo’ and an idealistically tidy ending. But despite Gangster Squad’s formulaic make-up, it’s still worthwhile because what is done is done well. As long as you are under no illusions about the nature of this beast it’s an enjoyable ride.
The performances are resplendently colourful with Sean Penn painting a merciless picture of vicious cruelty and Ryan Gosling delivering the usual cool charisma. Brolin does what he can with very little to work with and his noir-like narration helps us empathise. The one performance I was particularly surprised by was Emma Stone’s; this modern, sassy, and verbose actress successfully slowing it down for the sexy subtleties of a femme fatale.
The real strength of the film however is the way that it knows its audience. We now seem caught in this ubiquitous plight of 12A compromises, each film appealing to the widest market possible. This film is violent, gory and remorseless about it. In the opening scene we witness a gangster tortured and ripped apart between two cars. Gangster Squad is unequivocally an adult film for those with a taste for stylized violence.
Gangster Squad isn’t going to win any Oscars, nor is it going to break cinematic bounties. But it’s fun and exciting, like Hollywood used to make, a solid action film for the boys (and girls). If you want guts, balls and blood Gangster Squad shoots you square in the face.