Reel Reviews: Big hitters keep it interesting

Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and Sgt. O’Mara (Josh Brolin) wonder why the park is so brightly lit in Gangster Squad. - Warner Bros.
Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and Sgt. O’Mara (Josh Brolin) wonder why the park is so brightly lit in Gangster Squad.
— image credit: Warner Bros.

Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is the ex-boxer turned Mob kingpin of Los Angeles, circa 1949, in the unfortunately titled Gangster Squad.

A group of handpicked policemen (including Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling) wage an unofficial war against Cohen’s gang, to lock him up or shut him down.

We say, “If one more guy walks coolly away from an exploding car...”

TAYLOR: Gangster Squad was on my radar as a laughable farce, based solely on its trailer, which is a parade of cliches. However, the film managed to suck me in and I found myself rooting for the LAPD. The film starts off by claiming to be “inspired by a true story.” The facts are: Mickey Cohen was a real gangster in L.A. at the time, but he wasn’t jailed until 1950, for tax evasion. He served four years. (No squad of gun toting cowboys...)

HOWE: Perhaps 2013 will be the year with the stupidest movie titles, like Pain and Gain, but don’t let it put you off. Gangster Squad is a good movie which I thoroughly enjoyed. It is helped along by a few big hitters: Penn is excellent as the cold-hearted Mickey Cohen; Emma Stone gives one of her better performances as the girl stuck between Cohen and Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Gosling), and Brolin does what he does best, looking mean and moody.

TAYLOR: Well, I saw it a little differently. Penn seemed to be having fun, but often reminded me of the tiny gangster from the Bugs Bunny cartoons (“Nick!”). Emma Stone was fine but her characters’ purpose seemed to be to look around hopelessly. This is not a film that breaks any new ground, nor does it do anything particularly well. However, I enjoyed it in much the same way I enjoy any cheese, tentatively at first, then if it’s not too offensive, with gusto.

HOWE: Some of the sets in Gangster felt like you where actually there, living in the late-‘40s. Most notably, the showrooms from back in the day, scotch ‘n soda in one hand and a smoke in the other, while watching a Carmen Miranda wannabe on stage. On the other hand you had the dirtier, seedier side of the ‘40s, showing the corruption, violence and what they got away with back then. The only really nasty bit of this movie takes part in the opening five to 10 minutes, then it just calms down to “regular movie deaths” from gunshots or explosions.

TAYLOR: Gangster Squad was supposed to come out last September, but it was recalled by the studio to re-shoot a scene. Originally, there was a major gun fight in a crowded theatre, but then “the Aurora shootings” took place at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, so they moved the scene to Chinatown. Once again, the real interfering with the pretend.

— Taylor gives Gangster Squad 2.5 Tommy guns out of 5.

­— Howe gives it 3.5 wire taps out of 5.

The film is currently showing at the Galaxy Cinemas in Vernon.

Peter Howe and Brian Taylor are movie reviewers based in Vernon B.C. Their column, Reel Reviews, appears in The Morning Star every Friday and Sunday.

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