Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘Gangster Squad’ Review: Brolin, Gosling, Penn Are Excellent

The time: 1949. The place: Los Angeles. The mean machine gangster: Mickey Cohen.

Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is a Brooklyn born mob boss, who runs the town of Los Angeles. He controls the guns, drugs, prostitutes and several policeman and politicians whom he’s paid off. However, he doesn’t intimidate Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), who will do anything to take this gangster king down. O’Mara pulls together a secret LAPD team in order to bring down Cohen, including Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Officer Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Officer Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), Officer Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and his right hand man Officer Ramirez (Michael Pena).

Sgt. Wooters ends up falling for Cohen’s girl of the moment Grace (Emma Stone), and things get a bit messier for the secret group of gangsters.

Director Ruben Fleischer’s “Gangster Squad” is surprisingly funny and charming. I found myself laughing at several of Cohen’s one-liners and swooning over Gosling’s performance as the hotshot detective, I mean, aren’t all girls?? The screenplay, which is based off the book of the same name by Paul Lieberman, gives a lot of great dialogue exchanges between Mickey and his boys and with Sergeant O’Mara and the squad. The impressive cast delivers the lines so deliciously it makes the film more fluid and enjoyable.

Josh Brolin is excellent at leading the film. He brings a mixture of audacity and emotion as the lead “gangster” of the incorruptible squad. There’s an especially great scene with him after he saves a young woman from one of Cohen’s brothels. Brolin gives the character enough stamina to make sense that he would be crazy enough to take down Cohen.

Sean Penn is brilliant here, playing Mickey Cohen as a jovial hard-ass. My question for every critic who thought Sean Penn’s performance stunk (and there’s a lot of them): What would you have rather had him do? Act like a more “professional” gangster? Not be so goofy? He is a one-note bad guy who is giving his own interpretation of NY born gangster, Mickey Cohen. Throughout the film, I found myself trying to figure out what his next move was and how crazy it was going to be.

I loved seeing Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone together on-screen again. The actors appeared together in 2011’s “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” They have impeccable chemistry and the film would’ve benefited if they used the talented Ms. Stone more than what they did. Had the screenplay allowed her character a bigger plotline; it would’ve given the overall film better structure. The trailers are also a bit misleading, making you think a decent part of the story is about the relationship between Stone and Gosling’s characters, when really it is a minor (and at times manipulative) subplot.

“Gangster Squad” doesn’t “wow” like it should and people may not be talking about it in 10 years, but I still had a heck of a lot of fun watching it. Performances are fantastic across the board, especially of Brolin, Gosling and Penn.

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