Thursday, January 10, 2013
If L.A. Confidential were a comic book, this is the movie spun outta that: blustery postwar mythologizing about the violent birth of the modern metropolis, all pulpy-bright even when it’s night, bursting with violence that swings from the chillingly noirish to gruesome torture-porn contemporary. Gangster Squad is half-preposterous nonsense that cannot possibly be entirely true, and a half nod to the fact that (sometimes) preposterous nonsense is grunting satisfaction in cops-and-robbers action. No, it doesn’t add up, but neither does Gangster Squad, which shouldn’t work but does. I love this movie for its sensationalism.
I can’t not love a movie about which I cannot decide if the garish, overblown villain is a work of genius or lunacy. Sean Penn as 1949 Los Angeles mob boss Mickey Cohen doesn’t just swagger through Gangster Squad: He wallows in the swaggering with demented glee. Yet there’s no denying the gaudy fact that Cohen blasts at those around him, both literally, roaring his felonious philosophy at his minions, or figuratively, via wealth, power and celebrity: Nothing better represents the entrepreneurial, get-rich-quick, live-the-good-life spirit of America than organized crime.
Who will stop him? Incorruptible LAPD chief William Parker sics incorruptible Sergeant John O’Mara on Cohen, instructing the impossibly square-jawed lawman to bring down the mobster via urban “guerilla warfare.” It’s the only way, with most of the cops, brass, judges and politicians in Cohen’s pocket. No one will issue a warrant on Cohen; no one would testify anyway. But if Nick Nolte as Parker is operating on par with Penn, doing a hilarious impersonation of Nick Nolte, Josh Brolin as O’Mara has never been more appealing as a tough guy with a noble heart.
Can O’Mara’s real squad have been so pulpy as to include a cop who fancied himself a gunslinger (Robert Patrick) and another who was an early geek (Giovanni Ribisi), introducing the wonders of audio surveillance to his law-enforcement fellows? Can it really have included someone as snarkily nonchalant as Ryan Gosling’s Sergeant Jerry Wooters, who about steals the film with his “sheep in wolf’s clothing” feyness? The women get short shrift, but at least Emma Stone, as Cohen moll turned Wooters’ girl, and Mireille Enos as O’Mara’s wife, give as good as they get in thankless roles.
It’s all kinda the sort of gangster movie you might expect from Ruben Fleischer, the guy who gave us the resigned-to-the-apocalypse horror comedy Zombieland and screenwriter Will Beall, a writer and story editor on sarcastic cop show Castle. This isn’t a comedy, but it’s as if they couldn’t quite bring themselves to keep it completely straight – the best way to play a tale that is this outrageous no matter how far or how close it is to reality.
GANGSTER SQUAD (3) • Directed by Ruben Fleischer • Starring Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin • Rated R • 113 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Lighthouse Cinemas, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.