Gangster Squad (6/10)
by Tony Medley
Not for children.
I love a good
period movie that accurately re-creates the time period involved. To a
great extent that's what director Ruben Fleischer does here. The shots
of 1949 Los Angeles are extraordinary. There is one shot of a down town
street scene with circa 1949 and earlier cars and the Big Red Car
running through it that is remarkable.
But there are so
many factual errors that the movie comes across as little more than a
cartoon. There are many shots of the Hollywoodland sign. What has come
to be known as the "Hollywood" sign was put up in 1924 by a realty
company called "Hollywoodland." The "land," was deleted, and the year it
was deleted was 1949. But I certainly don't criticize Fleischer for
attempting to present an evocative picture of Los Angeles in the 1940s
by emphasizing the Hollywoodland sign, even if it might not have been
there when these events were supposed to occur. And, let's face it, the
events that occur in his movie are just about entirely fictional. And
that's a shame because there's enough about the Mickey Cohen saga in Los
Angeles to make a fascinating film based mostly on the truth.
The basis of
Fleischer's film is to tell about legendary LAPD Police Chief William H.
Parker (Nick Nolte) "war" against Cohen. But Parker actually didn't take
over as Chief until 1950, the year after this movie is set. I'm not sure
why a moviemaker would intentionally want to make a mistake like this.
Was it so important that the movie be set in 1949? Couldn't he have set
it in 1950 when Parker really was the new Police Chief in town?
One thing this
movie does get right is depicting Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) as a brutal
psychopathic killer, a person to be feared because he was so cold
bloodedly vicious. Penn gives a terrific performance as Cohen.
Also shining is
Emma Stone as Mickey's moll, but what else is new? She always shines.
She is gorgeous and made up to look like the movie star she is.
mostly refer to "chemistry" as feelings between a man a woman in a film,
there can also be chemistry between two heterosexual men. MGM made
several movies in the late 30s and early 40s starring Clark Gable and
Spencer Tracy, and there was noticeable chemistry between the two. In
the 60s and early 70s Paul Newman and Robert Redford had fantastic
chemistry in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid (1969), and
The Sting (1973). Here, for this movie to work there should be
chemistry between the two protagonists Josh Brolin, who plays Gangster
Squad leader Sgt. John O'Mara, and Ryan Gosling who plays Sgt. Jerry
Wooters, but there isn't even a hint of feeling between the two of them.
(There is chemistry between Gosling and Stone, though, and this is their
Worse, and most
unfortunately, Fleischer inserts ridiculous gunfights with thousands of
bullets being sprayed all over Los Angeles, reminiscent of the Warner
Bros. gangster films of the 30s. Nothing like this ever occurred in Los
This was on the
cusp of being a terrific film, one that would not only entertain, but
would educate people about an interesting time of Los Angeles history. I
lived through this period, though, and nothing like these World War
II-type gunfights occurred, although after gangster Bugsy Siegel was
assassinated by the mob in 1947, it is said that Mickey did enter the
lobby of the Hotel Roosevelt and fired shots from his .45 pistols in the
air, demanding that the assassins appear. And in the year covered by
this film, 1949, there was an attempt on Mickey's life at Sherry's
restaurant on the Sunset Strip by gunmen who shot him and several
others, including celebrated columnist Florabel Muir, a Cohen confidant.
Neither of these events is covered in the movie.
While this movie
implies a completely different ending, in point of fact Cohen was
finally sentenced to jail for tax evasion. So if you're just going for
entertainment, this isn't so bad. If you want to learn something,
however, this is not the vehicle. Even so, stay for the closing credits
because they are shown over old postcard pictures of the Los Angeles
covered in the film and they are very well done.