Lower your gaze when you’re looking at me, Los Angeles!
To say I’m a fan of all things 1940s would be an understatement. I have an affinity for the 1940s and anything that’s vintage, classic, and embodies “Old Hollywood” glamour. This weekend I watched “The Gangster Squad,” a film set in 1949 which chronicles gangster Mickey Cohen (played by Sean Penn) as he tries to claim Los Angeles and kill anything and anyone that gets in his way. Sean Penn looks and sounds different in this movie. That is, his face seems a little more aged and rough, and his accent echoes that of a Brooklyn-born New Yorker, if I’m not mistaken. His character is definitely not somebody to be reckoned with, and he is convincing as a gangster/punk/former boxer and grand puppeteer.
In addition to Penn, there are other familiar faces and seasoned actors in “The Gangster Squad.” Ryan Gosling, who is always easy on the eyes, plays the role of Sergeant Jerry Wooters. Gosling was great in “The Notebook” (another film set in the 1940s) so he seems right in his element playing a role in a film set in the latter end of the same era. Like Penn, he, too, has an accent; he speaks quickly and quietly. Penn, however, speaks loudly and with force, and his language isn’t void of the ever-so-needed “f-bombs.” Gosling’s Wooter has more of an edge than his Calhoun in “The Notebook,” but the edge is fitting of his character and his character’s disposition.
Wooter feasts his eyes on redhead Grace Faraday, played by Emma Stone, who of course, to make things interesting, is Cohen’s (Penn) girl. Why or how she became Cohen’s girl is revealed as the movie progresses. Wooter sees Faraday and makes no apologies for wanting her, and, well, ahem, wanting her. He gets her with little to no effort, and a relationship develops between the two of them rather quickly. It appears that for Wooter the element of playing with fire is appealing, and thus makes Faraday more of a reason to make her his new gem. While Gosling and Stone do have chemistry, I wasn’t sure if I completely believed their liking to one another; perhaps, because of how quickly they went from meeting to being together. Then again, with Cohen taking over the town (at one point he books an entire swanky hotel for he and his cohorts) the characters are given reasons to do things they wouldn’t normally do and act upon their desires as their lives become in danger.
Other notable actors in the film are Josh Brolin, as Sargent John O’Mara, Nick Nolte as Chief Parker, and Giovanni Ribisi as Officer Conwell Keeler. O’mara makes for a good “good cop” sergeant; Nolte plays the role of Chief Parker well, and Ribisi (who is sporting a mustache in the film) provides some comic relief and softness as Keeler. O’Mara’s wife, Connie (Mireille Enos) also does a good job embodying the emotions and concerns of a sergeant’s wife in that era. She is also pregnant with their first child, a son, so she has more reason to worry every time her husband leaves their home.
As far as the 1940s aesthetic, “The Gangster Squad” gets it right. The costumes, set designs, colors, and exterior shots of Los Angeles work together succinctly to give the film the 1940s feel. There are some moments of comic relief in the film, and there is plenty of firearm action, too. Wooter, at one point, uses a gun to shoot behind his head and successfully kills two of his targets. Lucky shots? Probably, but still cool to see. Yet, with all the positives “The Gangster Squad” has going for it, I still can’t help but feel like there is something missing. By the end of the film, I wasn’t completely moved. Perhaps, because I was able to predict how certain events in the movie would unfold, ending included, or, perhaps, because at one point O’mara, Wooter, Keeler and a few others O’mara rounds up who dub themselves “The Gangster Squad” fall too easily for one of Cohen’s traps; thus, their mistakes setup the predictability of events to come. In other news, feel free to take a gander at the 25 best to worst Ryan Gosling memes. That fella, in my humble opinion, can do no wrong. Ever. E-v-e-r.