A History of L.A. Found in ‘Gangster Squad’

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.


Once in a while a movie comes along that will define a genre of film for its generation. “Iron Man” defined what a super hero film should be (after the disappointing Hulk and X-Men movies), “Love Actually” defined what an ensemble cast romance film should be, and now “Gangster Squad” has defined what gangster movies should be.

Set in late 1940s Los Angeles, the film follows Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and his group of cops-turned-vigilantes as they take down mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who controls all of L.A.

After World War II, soldiers came home to return to living their lives in peace.  The only problem is they learned how to fight, but not how to stop. All they know is fighting. These are the men who are set to wage war for the soul of Los Angeles to save it from the gangster who rules it all – Mickey Cohen.

Cohen is a boxer-turned-mobster who runs heroin and prostitutes and has built an empire on it. He is preparing to put the golden nail in the coffin of L.A. that will make him the only connection to the east coast – the El Dorado Trust. The trust is a wire service that will give him access to all the money that transfers from Chicago to L.A., and L.A. to Chicago, and beyond. This will make him invincible and unstoppable in the corrupt L.A. system he bends to his will. The Gangster Squad will have to stop him before the wire opens and he becomes a permanent fixture in the City of Angels.

This is a great movie, plain and simple. It has exactly what you would come to expect from a gangster film – tough guy cops who don’t play by the rules, mobsters who want to corrupt everyone in the city for a profit, high up officials who take the payoffs the mob hands out and the lonely few who fight against it.

The opening of the film says “Inspired by a True Story,” and with just a little bit of Google digging, you too can find the real story of the Gangster Squad. The film is very loosely based on some real life characters, including Cohen and O’Mara, but their situations are exaggerated and dramatized. This makes for a really good film, although historically incorrect.

Despite the loose retelling, the actors had a chance to speak with certain parties involved in the real Gangster Squad and other operations at the time to get a sense of what life was like in L.A. back in the ’40s and ’50s. This led to one of the best performances of Brolin’s career, and Ryan Gosling, who portrays real life Sgt. Jerry Wooters (a cop who, bothered by the state of the city, checks out and doesn’t care about anything as opposed to O’Mara’s dark hatred of the problem itself and those who cause it) may have a whole new line of work in period detective films.

Just as the remake of “3:10 to Yuma” showed that Russell Crowe was born to play a cowboy, “Gangster Squad” shows that Gosling was born to play a detective.      Hopefully this film does well at the box office and is warmly received by the public, leading to more noir crime dramas like this one because Gosling was too good not to do more films like this.

Rated R for a good reason (graphic violence, drug use, sexuality, etc. – what you would expect from a good noir gangster movie), I give this film 5 out of 5 stars.