Gangster Squad (2013)

Starring: Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña, Nick Nolte

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin in Gangster Squad

A man is chained to two cars and torn apart. Gung-ho super-sergeant John O'Mara knocks out three men in an elevator fight, the lays out three more before saving the girl. That's the first five minutes of Gangster Squad. What's next?

There's something gloriously cartoony about this slick, visceral, exciting 1940s mob tale, like a cool 21st century riposte to Warren Beatty's '80s-neon Bugsy. You only need to look at a character to know whether they're a good guy or a bad guy. Like Dorian Gray's portrait, every past misdemeanour is etched into the twisted, seamy face of Sean Penn's marvellously evil New York mob boss Mickey Cohen, a man with absolutely no redeeming features, a brutal, unstoppable force hell bent on bringing the City of Angels to its knees.

The Gangster Squad

Opposing him is Josh Brolin's square-jawed, clean cut O'Mara, a man every bit as ruthless, single-minded and dismissive of collateral damage as the nemesis he's set on destroying. Then we have Ryan Gosling, louche, cocky and devastatingly handsome as fellow sergeant Jerry Wooter, a grizzled Robert Patrick as gunslinger Max Kennard and Michael Peña as his sharp-shooting apprentice Officer Ramirez, Anthony Mackie, dapper and cute as a young Will Smith as Officer Harris and Friends' Giovanni Ribisi as nerdy informations expert Officer Keeler. Together they are the Gangster Squad, an off-the-record taskforce charged with crushing Cohen's criminal empire.

Emma Stone as glamorous Grace in Gangster Squad

At first their ham-fisted attempts to scupper his operations are comically inept, but things quickly become serious as their sabotage begins to hit Cohen where it hurts: in the wallet. After a daring, destructive raid on his gambling empire, battle lines are drawn for an explosive final showdown, masterfully staged in the Art Deco lobby of a grand hotel trimmed for the festive season. And, like Die Hard in correspondent shoes, it features the best destruction of a Christmas tree ever.

Shot in bright primary colours that echo the comic books of the period, Gangster Squad looks wonderful, styled to perfection and effortlessly cool. The action sequences are fast-paced and pleasingly old school, brutal, bloody and packing real punch, a judicious use of slow-mo heightening the tension rather than calling attention to technique, and no crazy fake documentary camerawork doing your head in.

Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen in Gangster Squad

Subtle this film ain't, but that doesn't stop it being involving. Despite their somewhat two-dimensional natures, the good guys are appealing, whilst Penn's bad guy is the epitome of De Niro-style scenery-chewing evil. There are several Untouchables station scene edge-of-seat moments, quite a few laughs and at one point I even found myself welling up. What more can you ask of a movie? A CGI tiger? Pshaw. While Gangster Squad may not clean up at the Oscars, in terms of sheer excitement and enjoyment, it's a winner for me.

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