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Rating: ★★★½☆

Originally set for release last September, Ruben Fleischer’s third feature Gangster Squad was delayed in response to the tragic Colorado theatre shootings so that other scenes could be filmed to replace the ultimately cut theatre shootout sequence. As such, the eagerly awaited noir thriller hits cinemas this week, and although the star studded cast is not utilised as well as it should have been, Fleischer’s film is a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

Inspired by a true crime story, Gangster Squad’s tale is a simple one; honest Los Angeles cop John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is given the green light by Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) to assemble a team of like-minded cops to take down former boxer turned ambitious mobster Micky Cohen (Sean Penn). With a little help from the missus, O’Mara’s team eventually consists of Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), knife-wielding Rocky Washington (Anthony Mackie), technician Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), sharpshooter Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and his partner Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña).

What follows is the battle for L.A.’s soul as the ‘gangster squad’ begin to shut down Cohen’s operations. It’s an all too predictable narrative which plays out to its natural conclusion with nary a twist or turn viewers won’t see coming. However, the sharp dialogue and capably directed action scenes keep things entertaining. The first half of the film in particular is saturated with one-liners, and it is here that Fleischer’s film is at its most alluring. Additionally, from the attire to the décor, Gangster Squad looks fantastic, and Steve Jablonsky’s score is perfectly attuned to each scene.

Although there is some admiration to be gained by virtue of cops coming together to “do what needs to be done”, this is lazily used as the justification for many of the serious questions that Gangster Squad faces, chief among them the ‘does this make us as bad as them?’ notion of the cops setting aside their badges to deliver harsh justice. A little more reflection here from more characters may have proven beneficial.

With so many big names in the cast, it’s the two leads that stand out the most. Brolin is well cast as the brooding, over-zealous cop who doesn’t know how to stop fighting after returning from the war, and Penn exaggerates Cohen to memorable effect.

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Outside of Brolin, the most valiant efforts in trying to create a character that we actually care about come from Gosling and Ribisi. However, that connection is never truly established, meaning certain moments lack emotional punch. The biggest missed opportunity is that of Gosling’s subplot with Emma Stone’s Grace Faraday. The pair showed great chemistry in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love, but Stone’s absence from much of the film means that after a brilliant first meeting the relationship fizzles with subsequent scenes unable to recapture the initial charm.

Gangster Squad will likely not be remembered as one of the premier L.A. noir flicks such as The Untouchables or L.A. Confidential, and those who are seeking a film closer to true-crime foundations would be better served looking elsewhere, but if you’re after something a little more fantastical with great visuals and an excellent script, then Gangster Squad fits the bill nicely.

Gangster Squad is in cinemas today.

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This article was first posted on January 10, 2013