Loosely based on true events, Gangster Squad is the story of a group of rag tag police officers brought together in 1949 Los Angeles, in a desperate attempt to bring down the ruthless gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Seeped in blood and violence, Gangster Squad has some interesting moments, and shares some similarities with Brian DePalma’s classic The Untouchables, ultimately, the story is told in a far to pulpy and exploitive manner to be fully engaging.
In 1949, gangsters were running New York and Chicago, but had failed to truly gain traction in Los Angeles. Mickey Cohen was convinced he could change that, and set up a network that would run drugs, guns and prostitutes throughout the West Coast, making him a very rich and powerful man. Not willing to sit idly by, Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) asks Sergeant John O’ Mara (a rather restrained Josh Brolin) to assemble a secret squad to destabilize and attack Cohen’s growing operation. Since Cohen has much of the city in his pocket, including the police force, Parker gives the squad free rein to act outside the rules of law. The squad has no badges, and doesn’t need official warrants; their only job is to bring down Cohen and his thugs by whatever means necessary.
With a little help from his pregnant wife Connie (Mireille Enos), John sets about building his team: the soft spoken brawn, Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), family man and surveillance expert Conwell Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), sharp shooting gunslinger Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), his eager, but green-behind-the-ears partner Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña), and Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie) a tough city cop with some serious switchblade skills.
Given their various skills, the squad is soon kicking butt and asking questions later. Once they’re able to plant a bug in Cohen’s home, the successes start piling up. With newspaper headlines touting Cohen’s failures, Mickey decides to take the fight right to O’Mara and his squad. As one might imagine, the results are very bloody and deadly.
One of the film’s biggest flaws is that despite all the action, the characters remain fairly one dimensional. Beyond the fact that O’Mara is a decorated war hero struggling to assimilate to peace time life, we know very little about our heroes personal lives, making it difficult to feel invested in rooting for them when the bullets start flying. Unfortunate too, is the performance of the usually reliable Sean Penn. Way over the top from his first the word go, Penn opts to chew scenery at every turn. He never takes his foot off the gas pedal, giving Mickey Cohen as much vitriol as he can muster.
Penn gives rise to a few unintentional laughs, as does Nick Nolte, delivering his standard growl as Chief Parker. Emma Stone is as stunning as Grace Faraday, the gangster’s moll whom Wooters falls for. Having proven to have onscreen chemistry in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid Love Gosling and Stone continue to heat it up here. In truth though, Stone is largely wasted here, mostly used to sex things up and provide a nice, pat ending.
Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) has provided a good looking movie with some genuinely exciting moments. However, in terms of how Gangster Squad stacks up to those films considered important in the gangster genre, this is strictly minor league stuff. Great looking, but lacking any real substance, Gangster Squad is strictly popcorn fare.
Presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Warner’s 1080p transfer is impressive. Look very carefully, and you might find a few instances of aliasing, but it does nothing to affect the overall image. Detail quality is top notch throughout, and colors are vivid and well balanced. Black levels are nice and inky.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is fantastic. Forceful and natural, the fidelity here is excellent. Gunshots and other effects are absorbing, making the viewer feel like they’re part of the action. Music also reverberates through all the speakers, which serves to open things up. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout.
French, Spanish, and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are included, as are English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles.
The following special features are available:
- Audio Commentary with Director Ruben Fleischer: In this serviceable if dry commentary, Fleischer discusses the development of the project, the script, casting, and technical aspects of the script. Nothing to exciting here; probably for those that love commentaries.
- The Gangland Files (HD): An in-movie, Picture-in-Picture experience, with interviews, snippets of video commentary, trivia, optional Focus Point featurettes, historical trivia, production facts, photos and more.
- Focus Points: The Set-Up (HD, 46:28): Fifteen behind-the-scenes Focus Point featurettes are available: “The Real Story,” “Josh Brolin on O’Mara,” “One Continuous Long Shot,” “Fashion of the ’40s,” “Ryan & Emma Reunited,” “Emma Stone on Grace,” “The Real Mickey Cohen,” “Ryan Gosling on Wooters,” “The Real Gangster Squad,” “The Real Locations,” “Nick Nolte on Chief Parker,” “Inside Slapsy Maxie’s,” “Ryan & Emma on the Set,” “Bringing Back Gangsters” and “Park Plaza.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 12:20): Seven deleted scenes flanked by a quick introduction from Fleischer: “Cohen Meets Russo,” “Del Red Chase,” “Chavez Ravine,” “Griffith Observatory,” “Wooters Drives Grace to Whalen’s,” “Posadas: Cohen Threatens Squad” and “Chief Parker Gives Permission/Evidence Room.”
- Rogues Gallery: Mickey Cohen (SD, 46:44): An installment of “Rogues Gallery,” narrated by William Devane, that profiles gangster Mickey Cohen.
- Then and Now Locations (HD, 8:03): New and vintage photos of several of the film’s locations.
- Tough Guys and Style (HD, 4:54) The cast reflects on 1940’s Los Angeles.
- DVD Copy of the film.
- UV Digital Copy of the film.