Revisiting Gangster Squad: Was it All That Bad?
Released in the winter of 2012-2013, one would think Gangster Squad, a film about the real-life police squad that took down Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen would be a popular film. After all, one appealing aspect of Gangster Squad is its cast. Sporting an all-star cast including Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, and others, the film has a likable cast and seemed destined for success. Everybody loves movies set in Los Angeles in the 1940s, right? One would think. Yet, Gangster Squad currently holds a thirty-one percent rating on the Rotten Tomatoes. But maybe looking at the film once again could help us rethink it artistically and historically.
The film takes place in Los Angeles in 1948 and follows the exploits of real-life Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Sergeant John “Jack” O’Mara and police chief Bill Parker (Josh Brolin and Nick Nolte, respectively) in their quest to apprehend gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). O’Mara headed a unit known as the Gangster Squad. In the film, the police force performed actions that would be considered illegal today. Even the real-life O’Mara told the Los Angeles Times: “We did a lot of things that we’d get indicted for today.
Sergeant O’Mara works to recruit a number of police officers, including another real-life LAPD sergeant, Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling). O’Mara asks the recruits if they are willing to forgo usual police procedures. Their only goal is to tear down everything Mickey Cohen has built.
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In the end, O’Mara and his officers take down Cohen. The whole film is very stylized and quite beautiful to watch. Director Ruben Fleischer certainly had a very particular vision for Will Beall’s script. The film’s direction and writing evoke great Los Angeles crime films of the past such as Chinatown. In fact, at one point during the film, O’Mara and his men pursue the film’s one-eyed assassin in LA’s Chinatown.