Review: ‘Gangster Squad’ (MA) *** and a half

RUBEN Fleischer’s dramatisation of a book by Paul Lieberman purports to tell how, in 1949, a squad of cops waged a sub rosa campaign to rid Los Angeles of the blight that ex-prize-fighter Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) was inflicting in his ambition to control all of America’s illegal pleasure-based activities west of Chicago.

With an obvious intention to seize high moral ground, “Gangster Squad” delivers unrestrained violence amid spectacular action. In this, its perception of reality gets a tad distorted. While you might quibble about the verity of Fleischer’s staging, its mix of brio, tension and conflict has an undeniable ability to grab you and squeeze until the plethora of its excesses becomes overlookable.

Josh Brolin plays Sgt O’Mara, a war veteran with uncompromising combat skills, selected by Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) to put together a squad that will throw away the rulebook in destroying Cohen’s gambling, drugs, extortion and prostitution activities. Ryan Gosling plays Sgt Wooters who has no difficulty seducing Cohen’s paramour Grace (Emma Stone).

In “Gangster Squad”, issues are black and white. Characters don’t waste time developing personalities – if they can’t do that while working, bad luck. Gunfights burn much powder to less effect than rationality entitles us to expect.

Cohen eventually did go down. Fleischer’s take on how that came about manages to be a fun movie perhaps because it knows that however much getting there inflates or distorts reality, it must deliver that undeniable truth.

At all cinemas

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