“Mickey Cohen adored violence” says the voice-over towards the tail-end of Gangster Squad. The LA drug-dealing gangster, who is here played by Sean Penn, did apparently adore violence, but so does this movie. With competent special effects and sudden slow-motion moments, Gangster Squad piles on the gore and corpses like there’s no tomorrow. It may well be the most brutal film ever to get a 15 certificate.
But is it any good? Yes, but only to a point. The film makes the story of a group of policemen set up to take on the out of control criminals of late-40s Los Angeles fairly compelling, but the whole thing comes over as a bit bland at points. Stylish, certainly. Very exciting at times. But we never really get to sink our teeth into the characters (some of them are just plain one-dimensional).
Josh Brolin heads up the crew as John O’Mara, the cop who is kind and gentle at home to his pregnant wife, then happily tortures criminals at night. His team is populated by Ryan Gosling (the sex), Robert Patrick (the old veteran), Michael Peña (the new boy), Giovanni Ribisi (the conscience) and Anthony Mackie (the knife-lover).
As I’ve already said, the violence is tough, and director Ruben Fleischer throws bits of brain and bone at the screen as he did in Zombieland, though in a more serious context. For what this film lacks in sex scenes (though Gosling and Emma Stone, pictured above, do get some post-coital rolling around in bed), it makes up for in explicit blood-letting. I’m not saying the movie as a whole is morally reprehensible, but at times the glamorisation of brutality leaves an odd and not altogether nice taste in the mouth.
Gangster Squad is a good enough genre piece, and the performances are fine without ever being truly sensational. I just feel that the enjoyment of watching it the film never quite matched the sense of excitement and anticipation that its promotional trailer cultivated so well.
Gangster Squad (2013), directed by Ruben Fleischer, is released in the UK by Warner Bros. Pictures, Certificate 15.