As a term, Film Noir has branched out to describe a multitude of genre types, and not just the gritty crime soaked dramas set in 1940s America. Yet, it’s come to the point that any film taking place in that time period involving gritty cops and merciless bad men, immediately conjures theFilm Noir stature. Forcefully mashing together L.A. Confidential with The Untouchables, Gangster Squad finds a way to completely strip all the mystique and magic from an era that should automatically carry a special charm when projected on the silver screen.
It’s 1949, and the ruthless Mickey Cohen (an over-acting Sean Penn) has his boot firmly pressed on the throat of Los Angeles. Drugs, hookers, gambling–Mickey runs it all, including having almost every cop and politician in his pocket. When Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) steps in to save a young girl from the clutches of Mickey’s goons, he catches the eye of police chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte), one of the few men still willing to fight against the antagonizing crime lord. Parker knows Mickey has a leash on too many inside players to attack him in the usual manner, so he tasks O’Mara with finding a team of cops who will work off the grid to destroy Cohen’s empire. These men will not carry badges, they will play the roles of a rival gang, attempting to take over Mickey’s rackets–they will not receive any extra pay, they will not get any recognition if they succeed. With his hand picked group at the ready, O’Mara spends no time taking the battle straight to Cohen’s front step, consuming L.A. in a storm of bullets and blood.
John O’Mara needs to find cops that can go unrecognized by anyone, in case they’re caught, and so Mickey Cohen doesn’t realize it’s the police who are really taking a shot at his operation. To do this, O’Mara enlists the help of men who stick out more than a virgin’s dick at a Playboy mansion orgy. His choices are the one black officer who chooses to make a name for himself on the street by throwing around a switchblade, the wild west style shooter whose exploits are so well known they’re literally presented in comic book form with his picture on the cover, the gunslinger’s Mexican partner that every other cop refused to work with because of his heritage, and the dude who looks like Ryan Gosling; a man whose face is stamped in the collective memory of every woman that sees him–who just happens to love hanging around Cohen’s nightspots, and is also banging Cohen’s girlfriend. With more than half the police force, including high ranking officers that are corrupt to the core, how was there not a scene of some random cops sitting in the station asking why a handful of insanely noticeable cops go missing one day, nevermind the fact that they all share strikingly uncommon similarities to now infamous Gangster Squad? This is a mystery even the unassuming Gothamites, who never tied Bruce Wayne to Batman could solve.
Gangster Squad is a festering ball of poorly developed characters that are supposed to be advanced thinkers, and who show no semblance of any common sense. It takes a mistake by the squad of burning all the money they found during a hit on Mickey’s biggest operation, instead of taking it all, for Mickey to realize these menacing loons were cops. Still, when Mickey shows up to the scene of the crime, he spends his time beating up cops and foaming at the mouth and it’s not until the next-fucking-day until he asks how much money was stolen. This is a man who kept an entire city under a fist of maniacal brilliance. He may have been a hot-head murderer, but business came first, not the creepy; I’m going to kill you craziness. The characters of Gangster Squad, though based on real people, are just badly thrown together ideals of what a two year old thinks a 40s cops and robbers persona should be, instead of what they really were.
There have been plenty of 1940s L.A. crime films, a genre that is owned by James Ellroy in this day and age, so I understand wanting to try something different when it comes to a stylistic approach. This doesn’t make it acceptable that the flashy slow motion shots of lighters setting a blaze, Christmas ornaments popping, and spent rifle shells flying up to the sky, are so heavily used. More time was spent making those aspects of the film feel like they were weighty and important and any real style or panache went flying out the window. There’s nothing aesthetically appealing about Gangster Squad, which is something hard to do when your film is set in one of the most easily appealing stylistic eras.
I’m not an expert on wiretapping and bugging devices, so maybe it was the norm in 1949, but who in the world puts a bugging device in a T.V.? If the set is turned on, what will you hear? It’s instances like this that clearly illustrate that the general story was all that mattered to the film makers. Changing historical fact to make your bullet ridden movie more sensational is fine, but when you take a man who in real life went to prison for tax evasion, and turn his apprehension into a botched plan to run him out of town, you lose too much credibility. Gangster Squad is basically Dick Tracy without the abnormally featured villains, and a lot less flare and credibility.
Rating: 1 and a half out of 5 ‘Staches