Gangster Squad passes quite easily what we must now call the Cameron Test; it does what it says on the tin. Sgt John O’Mara, played solidly and stolidly by Josh Brolin, the ‘only’ sea-green incorruptible of the current LAPD is tasked by Nick Nolte’s Police Commissioner to bring down Sean Penn’s, Mickey Cohen, the local crime boss. It is 1949, and O’Mara, a veteran of the second world war sees life in suitably rough and ready terms. He recruits four other incorruptibles with the help of his wife, Connie, who can see that he doesn’t need angels, but people with skills and a gritty integrity that mirrors her husband’s. Connie is played by Mireille Enos; best known here, I’d suggest, for her leading role in the American remake of The Killing. And she is terrific as the pregnant wife who is the balance to O’Mara’s slightly predictable obsession with Cohen.
So far so predictable, and that is both the strength and weakness of this film. It’s very much along the stock noir B-Movie lines. The gang are operating outside the law for much of the time and they have a range of successes and then catastrophic failures as they discovered, but, as Hollywood demands, they ‘win’ in the end. But the film rises above it’s B-Movie rank out of the sheer stylishness of the delivery. All the performances are good, including Ryan Gosling as Brolin’s assistant who falls for and captures the heart of Cohen’s ‘moll’, played equally strongly by Emma Stone.
The design of 40′s Los Angeles is unlikely to go wrong, and the film is beautifully shot. The atmosphere, the clothes, the wise-cracking script and the music all make for a very entertaining two hours of fairly undemanding cinema. Gangster Squad is certainly not the turkey that some have deemed it; but it has to be said that Sean Penn’s, Mickey Cohen, is vastly over played, and the prosthetics do suggest an ex-boxer, which he is, but with disastrous lack of subtlety.