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Movie Review: ‘Gangster Squad’ Goes To War Over The Soul Of L.A.

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(credit: gangstersquad.warnerbros.com)

(credit: gangstersquad.warnerbros.com)

Vicki Briganti – CW50 Writer / Producer / Editor

It’s war. People die. That’s how the good guys and bad guys feel about the battle between good versus evil raging on the streets of Hollywoodland in 1949 when a team of honorable cops sets out to squash a gangster operation.

Establishing the tone for the film, the first ten minutes of Gangster Squad are bloody and brutal. A man is drawn and quartered by two cars. There’s a fistfight brawl in a hotel room and an explosion in an elevator.

In a knock out performance, Sean Penn packs a punch in his powerhouse role as Mickey Cohen, a former boxer turned Mafia mob king. Mickey’s mandate is to control the city of Los Angeles by keeping a stranglehold monopoly on drugs, prostitution, and gambling. He masterminds a plan he passionately refers to as “progress.” Mickey’s ruthless philosophy: “It isn’t murder. It’s progress.”

Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen (credit: gangstersquad.warnerbros.com)

Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen (credit: gangstersquad.warnerbros.com)

Strong and steady Josh Brolin plays Sgt. John O’Mara, the leader who puts together a crew of under-the-radar cops to stop Mickey from further corrupting L.A. As the violence escalates, these brave men of justice, some of whom served in World War II, begin to question whether they’re vigilantes…or gangsters no better than Mickey.

Playing his cards close to the vest, Ryan Gosling slinks and slides his way in and out of scenes as Sgt. Jerry Wooters. Jerry pushes his luck by developing a relationship with Mickey’s gal, Grace, a role aced by Emma Stone. Grace’s presence complicates the operation but proves the pivotal piece of the puzzle needed to nab the thugs.

The Gangster Squad vigilantes (credit: gangstersquad.warnerbros.com)

The Gangster Squad vigilantes (credit: gangstersquad.warnerbros.com)

In addition to the precise sound mixing which heightens each punch, gunshot, and tire squeal, the well-written script aptly reflects the times of ’49 with words like “scram,” “pal,” “bum,” and phrases like “That’s fast work,” “He’s gonna give her a bad time,” “Hold onto your hats,” and “What’s your racket?”

We’ve seen some of these violent images before in movies like The Godfather and Scarface. Although no new ground is broken on the Mafia front, the filmmakers use bullet time visual effects to highlight a few shoot out scenes with captivating results. The fact that Gangster Squad is based on a true story makes this movie-going experience even more satisfying.

Gangster Squad opens in theatres January 11th. The official website is gangstersquad.warnerbros.com.

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