The shoot-em-up film, Gangster Squad was held back from theatrical release from its scheduled September 2011 debut because of its violent themes in the wake of the shootings at Aurora Colorado. When it finally came out the critics generally panned the movie. The New York Times called it a “costume party run amok”; and admittedly it is cartoonish at times—maybe most of the time.

Still, there is a stylish sense to the film, based loosely on the activities of the largely corrupt Los Angeles Police in the late 1940s, as they grappled with feared crime boss, Mickey Cohen, played by a snarling Sean Penn. Director Ruben Fleischer has created a visually stunning post-war LA, replete with fabulous period cars and clothes. Gangster Cohen has invaded Los Angeles and through a blend of brutal violence and bribery of the police has the city under his thumb.

Drugs, illegal gambling and prostitution are rampant. As bad as things are, the corruption of the LAPD has not reached it’s chief, “Whiskey Bill” Parker(played by Nick Nolte who didn’t have to work too hard to get into character), who decides Cohen must be stopped at all costs. He assembles a secret hit squad led by Sgt. John O’Mara, played by Josh Brolin. O’Mara recruits his buddy, Sgt. Jerry Wooters, a hard-drinking playboy brought to life by Ryan Gosling, who perhaps turns in the best performance in this ensemble. The rest of the team is rounded out by a sharpshooter and his Mexican sidekick and an electronics expert. Instructed to leave their badges at home, the gangster squad embarks on a reign of counter-terrorism against Cohen.

It’s not enough to intercept the gangster’s drug shipments and to blow up his gambling joints,  the Gosling character boldly launches a torrid affair with Cohen’s mistress played by a sexy Emma Stone. The script reminds us that the “f” word wasn’t invented in the 1960’s and there’s some cringe-inducing violence in this film; but director Fleischer manages to cut away just before one would be tempted to reach for the remote. The critics are probably right  when they say the movie lacks subtlety and nuance, but for those of us from working class roots, sometimes you just want to watch a cracking good action movie, that doesn’t have much of a message.


John Best has had a lengthy media management career, in television and radio and now print. As Vice President, News at CHCH in Hamilton, John oversaw a significant expansion of the news operation. He founded Independent Satellite News, Canada’s only television news service providing national content to Canadian independent TV stations. John is a frequent political commentator on radio and television, a documentary producer and author of a book and numerous articles on historical and political subjects. John is a past recipient of the New York Festival’s award for writing in the International TV category.

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