Gangster Squad



Unlike the last few years which have seen some outstanding January releases at the cinema 2013 has offered very little way in interest to me. The  musical Les Miserables– the clue is in the title I believe- sounds like being exactly that and I have already sat through the stage production so therefore have little intention of repeating that tortuous experience even if Hugh Jackman and Helena Bonham Carter appear. Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ seems predictable Oscar fare and only the release of ‘Hitchcock’ in February offers a glimmer of hope in lifting my spirits. The release of Ruben Flescher’s ‘Gangster Squad’ starring Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn and Josh Brolin seemed like the best of January’s mainstream offerings. However although it is not a great movie-it trades authenticity for entertainment value, cliché and stylisation a little too often for that- it is an enjoyable experience with some of Hollywood’s greatest leading men being allowed to indulge so many of their boyhood fantasies.

Set in Los Angeles in the nineteen forties at a time when the mafia, in particular Mickey Cohen (Penn), were moving in from the east set on establishing as firm a stronghold in the west coast. Unfortunately they had not reckoned on opposition from a group of police officers assembled by Sgt. John O’Mara ( Brolin) intent on blocking this take over using any means at their disposal including some as corrupt as those deployed by the mob themselves. Ably assisted by disillusioned cop Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Gosling) who is also having an affair with Cohen’s girlfriend Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) matters can only become more complicated as the destruction of Cohen’s empire escalates and the violence increases.

Matters come to a head when Cohen murders Jack Whalen who is sheltering an on the run Grace and she is horrified by what she witnesses and turns states evidence as a means of assisting the police and somehow hopefully seeking some form of asylum and safety for herself.

What ensues at this juncture is an extended shootout followed by an equally long slugging it out to the bitter end facsimile of a boxing match-Cohen was a former boxer- that stretches the audience’s belief in credibility to extraordinary lengths.

Therein lay this film’s greatest strengths and weaknesses in a nutshell. It is extremely stylised- Gosling is the epitome of cool in expertly worn fedoras, slick suits whilst twirling and flicking lighters towards perpetually dangling cigarettes- and extremely violent to the point of being unnecessarily so. It is essentially a male-centric film and one suspects Gosling is there mainly to tempt females into the theatre and provide them with a bit of much needed eye candy as the carnage plays itself out.

Having said that I must maintain that I really enjoyed this film and it is hugely entertaining despite all its shortcomings. However at the same time I also have no desire to see it ever again although it is probably the best film on release at the moment if you discount the Christmas blockbusters and the fantastical and heavily Oscar nominated Life of Pi.

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