The opening credits say "Gangster Squad" was inspired by a true story, but its real inspiration seems to have been "L.A. Confidential."
About a 1949 war between a secret unit of the Los Angeles Police Department and sadistic gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), "Gangster," like "L.A. Confidential," focuses on the uneasy interaction between two cops.
One cop is a pigheaded straight arrow (Josh Brolin) and the other is a ladies' man (Ryan Gosling) with a dangerous crush on a gangster's moll (Emma Stone, whose whispery line delivery makes her femme fatale role seem much more interesting than it is but does nothing to explain what this canny woman is doing with a thug).
Like "L.A.," the intense violence in "Gangster" is posed against elegant midcentury furniture and clothes. Like "L.A.," Mickey Cohen is a key figure in "Gangster." And like "L.A.," "Gangster" is at least mildly interested in the question of whether justice that comes at the hands of lawless cops is really justice.
The resemblance stops there, though. "Gangster" gets a sheen of style from the period trappings, but there's not a memorable image in the entire movie. The screenplay lacks wit or emotional nuance. And, although the fine actors do what they can, there isn't a single character in the film whose death would be upsetting or even noteworthy.
Other than vibrant Mireille Enos, who is fantastic as Brolin's no-nonsense wife, there's no humanity in any of these alleged humans. As a result, "Gangster Squad" reminded me of Carson Daly: handsome and glib but not much going on beneath the surface.
It's also worth noting that "Gangster Squad" bears almost no relation to the true story of Mickey Cohen and the LAPD. He was not convicted of the crime the movie claims he was convicted of, he was not brought down the way the movie says he was and he did not meet the fate the movie says he did. In the interest of fairness, I should report that the movie does get at one thing right: He was a gangster.
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone
Rated: R, for bloody violence and very strong language
Should you go? Why would you, when "L.A. Confidential" is smarter, funnier, more suspenseful and readily available for home viewing? **