Gangster Squad

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1949 post-WWII Los Angeles, gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) has become the most powerful figure in the California criminal underworld, and intends to continue to expand his criminal enterprise across the Western United States, forcing out his rivals in Chicago. The police have not been able to stop Cohen’s ruthless rise, as Cohen has eliminated witnesses and bribed both the courts and the police, controlling both illegal and legal sides of L.A. The film begins with Cohen brutally executing a man by splitting him in half.

After saving a young girl from Cohen’s thugs (who Cohen pretends to forgive and burns in an elevator), Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is personally selected by Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) due to O’Mara’s special operations background and training at Camp X during World War II to wage guerilla warfare on Cohen, dismantling his crime empire and forcing him out of Los Angeles. With the help of his reluctant and pregnant wife, Connie (Mireille Enos), O’Mara recruits fellow officers in his squad. Initially he is joined by hard-headed detective Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), wire-tapper Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), and legendary gangster-killer Max Kennard (Robert Patrick). Kennard’s partner, Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña), follows the squad and they reluctantly allow him to join. Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), O’Mara’s close friend, turns down the offer, as he is disillusioned from the war and his time on the police force.

Wooters has been keeping close to his old friend Jack Whalen (Sullivan Stapleton), who is his informant from within Cohen’s operations. After meeting for drinks, Wooters becomes infatuated with Cohen’s etiquette coach and girlfriend Grace Faraday (Emma Stone). Wooters and Grace begin a secret romantic relationship. After Cohen orders a hit on rival Jack Dragna (Jon Polito) that results in the death of Pete (Austin Adams), an innocent boy Wooters knew. Infuriated, Wooters mercilessly executes one of Cohen’s men and nearly murders Cohen in his rage. He saves O’Mara’s squad after an unsuccessful hit on one of Cohen’s casinos, and later joins them.

With organization and better planning the unit strikes several successful blows at the heart of Cohen’s criminal organization. The media refers to them as “The Gangster Squad”. After wire-tapping Cohen’s house, Keeler deduces the central location of Cohen’s wire gambling business, the heart of his empire. The squad successfully burns down the business, but Cohen’s men inform him that they didn’t take any of his money. Cohen believes they are a group of honest cops, and believes someone ratted him out and tapped his house. As his men sweep the house for bugs, Grace runs away, fearing Cohen knows of her relationship with Wooters.

The Gangster Squad is lured into a trap in Los Angeles’ Chinatown by Cohen’s head hitman Wrevock (Troy Garity), who was also responsible for Pete’s death. Wooters interrupts the ambush just in time to save O’Mara, but Wrevock escapes. Karl Lennox (Holt McCallany), Cohen’s right-hand man, kills Keeler in the unit’s operation. Wooters asks Whalen to get Grace out of town, but Cohen reaches him first, looking for Grace, and kills him. O’Mara’s house is later hit by a drive-by, and Connie gives birth to their son under the stress. Chief Parker tells O’Mara, as a result of their failure, that their careers with the LAPD are over. O’Mara gets Connie out of town, but refuses to leave with the job unfinished. Grace tells Wooters she is willing to testify against Cohen for Whalen’s murder, prompting O’Mara, along with the remaining members of his unit, to go to the Park Plaza Hotel to arrest Cohen.

Cohen and his men engage in a firefight with the police unit, with Wooters being wounded in the process after killing Wrevock. Cohen and Lennox escape, but O’Mara pursues them, which results in their vehicle crashing into a fountain. Kennard gets shot by Lennox, but manages to kill him with help from Navidad, before dying from his wounds. O’Mara prepares to arrest Cohen, but Cohen tempts him into fighting each other in a bare-knuckle boxing match, while a crowd of onlookers and journalists gather. O’Mara finally beats Cohen and has him arrested, ending his reign as a crime boss and the spread of the mafia into the Los Angeles area. The Gangster Squad was never mentioned in taking down Cohen, their surviving members remaining a secret. Cohen is sentenced to 25 to life at Alcatraz, and is welcomed violently by Whalen’s friends. Grace and Wooters continue their relationship, while Navidad and Harris become partners on the force. O’Mara quits to live a quiet life with his wife and son.


Over the weekend, I rewatched one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies, The Rocketeer. One of the reasons I like that film so much, is because it is set in an era that I love. As a matter of fact, many of the films that I treasure that aren’t in space or the west, seem to involve a simpler time, gangsters, tommy guns, jazz, and loose women. Is it any wonder that Gangster Squad was right up my alley, then?

What is this about?

It’s 1949 Los Angeles, and gangster Mickey Cohen has moved in, with the intention of controlling all criminal activity in the city. He has bought local judges and police, and no one is willing to cross him or testify against him. Everyone except Seargant John O’Mara, a former World War II soldier, whose goal is to settle with his family in a peaceful Los Angeles. Police Chief William Parker decides to form a special unit whose mission is to take down Cohen, and chooses O’Mara to lead the unit. O’Mara chooses 4 cops and asks another cop and vet, Jerry Wooters to join him but Wooters is not interested. But when he witnesses the murder of a young boy by Cohen’s people, he joins them, and they decide to take apart Cohen’s organization. Cohen wonders if a rival is going after him, but eventually he realizes it’s the cops.

What did I like?

Era. This is the era that I love the most. I was so glad that the filmmaker’s brought it to life, along with a jazzy soundtrack and old Hollywood feel. It was a great honor to this bygone, simpler era that they chose it to make this grand spectacle of a picture. In a way, I wish they would have gone more into detail about some of the afflictions of the time, such as prohibition, returning from the way (which they did touch on), etc., but that’s just a personal preference, and not an indictment of the finished product.

Violence. After the Colorado theater massacre last summer, the release date was pushed back, and a scene involving a shooting in a theater, which I will touch on a littler later. The violence that we see actually doesn’t get bad until the climactic shootout, which is where you would expect it. I found it very similar to the Grand Central Station scene from The Untouchables. Anything goes and anything went. Bullets and blood flew, and I was eating up every minute of it!

Cartoon. My friends over at called this film very cartoonish when it comes to the characters and action. I can see where they are coming from. However, sometimes people just prefer over-the-top, cartoony action. Why else is there a cult following for Dick Tracy (of which I am a huge fan of). To be sure, some people will not enjoy this style as much as me, and that’s ok, but you have been warned.

What didn’t I like?

Mush. It wasn’t that long ago that we saw Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone team up in Crazy, Stupid Love. They obviously have some chemistry, which is great. However, the whole story with them seemed a bit too mushy for the tone of this film. It was like watching this adrenaline pumped, testosterone flick suddenly stop and turn into a chick flick in those scenes. I wasn’t a fan!

Minority report. At this point in history, minorities weren’t necessarily looked upon as full equals. This explains why Michael Pena and Anthony Mackie were relegated to supporting characters. This doesn’t bother me, really, however, I know that there are some that are sure to be all bent out of shape about something so small and won’t be able to get over it.

Theater. As I mentioned earlier, there was a theater scene that was cut and reshot in front Grumman’s Chinese Theater because of the Colorado shooting. I won’t earn many fans for this, but I don’t think it should have been reshot. First, let me say that the scenes itself isn’t bad. I also applaud the decision to move a violent film such as this back a few months. I don’t think that the filmmakers should have caved in and reshot it. What happens in a film is not necessarily related to what happens in real life, but because our society has become so scared of any and everything, they changed it. I’m surprised they kept it as violent as it was.

From the moment it was announced, I was as giddy as a school girl to see Gangster Squad and it did not disappoint. A flick that is just sheer retro fun is just what we need. Sure, it is a bit uneven and it does seem as if some of the cast is taking it too seriously, specifically Josh Brolin, but I won’t hold that against him. I highly recommend this as a must see! Go check it out ASAP, but remember this is an era that I love, so I may be a bit biased in my opinion.

4 1/3 out of 5 stars


One Response to “Gangster Squad”

  1. […] Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters 9. Oz the Great and Powerful 8. Gangster Squad 7. Man of Steel 6. Olympus Has Fallen 5. G.I. Joe: […]

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