Set in 1949 Los Angeles, the film blends real history with fictionalized characters and events to create a love letter to old Hollywood gangster films that plays well to modern audiences. In the film, Sean Penn plays a villainous gangster named Mickey Cohen, a real historical figure who took over most of LA's underbelly in the '40s and '50s, and it is true, like the movie shows, that the police chief created a secret squad of cops, known as the Gangster Squad, to try and hamper Cohen's operations. The idea of the Gangster Squad is that they leave their badges at home, they are not cops, they're just vigilantes out to do what they cannot do as cops, requiring little things like miranda rights and evidence.
Really, this movie just scratched an itch I've had for a long time for a movie like this. I love this era of US history, the era of the gangsters. It's a fascinating era, but one that Hollywood has been obsessed with representing realistically pretty much ever since The Godfather in the '70s. What I love about Gangster Squad is that it hyper stylizes and romanticizes everything to the point that you know they're not trying to be realistic or even historically accurate, they're just trying to make a fun, emotionally involving ride. From Ruben Fleischer's stylish visuals, to Will Beall's screenplay that accentuates 1940's slang, this is a film that knows what it's meant to be from the first frame and never tries to be anything more, and that is why I loved it so much. Of course, what made this movie work so well though, is the fact that I cared for the characters.
They made all of the characters likable and relatable. They're all morally upright guys who will always do the right thing, so when they get in gunfights, you don't want any of them to die, that's the true brilliance of this film, and that really has a lot to do with the stellar cast. From Josh Brolin to Ryan Gosling, they cast likable actors in these roles that we're supposed to love, and it works. Though, none of our heroes would work unless you had a villain so nasty that you wanted them to bring him down, and Sean Penn delivers that as Cohen, chewing up the scenery every scene he is in. From the first time you see Penn's Cohen, he is being painted as this emotionless guy out for only money and power, and will kill all in his way to get it. Who doesn't wanna see a guy like that broken?
Overall, Gangster Squad works for what it is. While many would rather like to see a historically accurate retelling of the real Gangster Squad, as a fun popcorn movie, this Gangster Squad more than suffices.
I give Gangster Squad an A!