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Gangster Squad

Year: 2012
Production Co: Langley Park Productions
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writer: Will Beall
Cast: Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Nick Nolte, Robert Patrick, Michael Péna, Jon Polito

Not long ago Sean Penn ranted during an interview at the choices his fellow actors were making about the roles they took. I seem to remember him saying something about holding himself to account as well but if he doesn't, he should reread the story after this movie.

No, it's not a bad movie by any means. It just very superficial, all surface glitz, the characters (especially his role as ambitious mobster Mickey Cohen) one-note caricatures.

You'll actually be reminded of Who Framed Roger Rabbit by the romantic depiction of postwar Los Angeles, a time of guys and dames, glitzy clubs and a seedy underbelly where criminals were making good on the opportunistic times as much as anybody. In fact it's like the vacuous, giggly younger sibling to the far more nuanced and mature LA Confidential.

Honest cops are fighting a losing battle against the growing influence of Cohen and the judges, cops and media either in his pocket or scared of reprisals if they move against him. So as grizzled police chief Nick Nolte grizzles grizzily to hardworking plod and WWII vet O'Mara (Brolin), go off the books, put a squad together with unique talents and hit Cohen where it hurts by busting up his operations and firebombing his front companies.

It's a fairly simple battle movie of good pitched against evil, with a few sidebars to tie the whole thing together like O'Mara's loverboy partner Jerry (Gosling) and his affair with Cohen's main squeeze (Stone).

It starts with a carnival atmosphere that soon gets serious as Cohen gets closer to finding out who his tormentors are – and as the opening scene of two cars pulling a guy in half right behind the Hollywood sign (which goes to prove what fiction it really is – you can't near that fucking thing in real life for love nor money) proves, he won't treat them nicely.

Director Fleischer (Zombieland) wrangles a great look – the costumes, backdrops and hardboiled noir stylings all look great. It's just that the plot is so procedural and plodding and some of the script so ropey it all feels like a comic book for kids, despite the garish violence.

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