‘Gangster Squad’ does what it’s supposed to do

Movie Review
By: By Frank Miller Special to The News Messenger
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“Gangster Squad”

Directed by Ruben Fleischer 

Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

Rating: Three out of five stars


Mobster movies are a dime a dozen and most only serve to scratch a romanticized itch for a bygone film era where Tommy guns spewed seemingly endless rounds of hot lead.

“Gangster Squad” is a mobster movie set in Los Angeles in 1949. The city is overrun by Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a transplant crook from New York whose lethally opportunistic eye casts an overpowering gaze.

With police chiefs and politicians in his back pocket, Cohen’s reign becomes inescapable and it is up to a rogue squadron of cops to circumvent the law to turn back Cohen’s tide.

Led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), the so-called gangster squad busts up Cohen’s operations without flashing a badge, giving them the drop on the ruthless Mafioso.

The film is the very definition of a sandbox movie. These are movies that serve very specific purposes but ultimately don’t have much else going for them.

A sandbox allows you to play in the sand and that’s about it. You can build a castle and get a little dirty but the novelty wears itself out pretty fast.

The film has a few redeeming qualities and it plays those like a harp. Ryan Gosling is great as a semi-scuzzy cop who falls for the equally captivating Emma Stone.

Their chemistry is the saving grace of the movie and is certainly worth the price of admission for sheer ogling purposes alone.

Penn seems like he’s in a different movie altogether. His portrayal of Cohen seems as if it came from the cutting room floor of “Dick Tracy,” a film that appears to be a tangential stylistic influence.

Eye-catching as “Gangster Squad” may be, it may leave you feeling a little empty because there’s not much meat on its bones. It’s all flash and panache, which is good for short bursts of excitement, but it doesn’t give you anything that will linger.


Frank Miller is a Sacramento writer.