After the Second World War, Los Angeles is overrun by Mickey Cohen (Penn), an East Coast gangster who moved West and got every Angeleno judge and cop in his grey overcoat pocket. Except the brash Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), who may as well be eating home-made apple pie throughout to ensure it’s understood he represents the soul of America. Gathering a crew of misfit honest cops—who all happen to be perfect specimens of masculine beauty: Ryan Gosling, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña, Anthony Mackie—they take down Cohen’s crew while wearing finely tailored suits.
Yet another "true story" tale, the film is based on the real life gangster Cohen, but Gangster Squad feels less historically bound and more an excuse to play dress up. Though it invokes the noir era, which was a product of the anxiety over reintegrating men into society after the war, Gangster Squad experiments in no way with form or an atmosphere that might speak to the time. Worse, that angst which sprang from how to bring the boys (now men with blood on their hands) back home is replaced by a lawman’s fantasy of The A-Team with Tommy guns.
Setting a crucial showdown in Chinatown is Gangster Squad’s final misstep, as it openly courts comparisons to Roman Polanski’s 1974 film. There, Los Angeles was truly contaminated, but here for all the spilled blood nothing is beyond redemption, except the film itself. Forget about it, it’s not Chinatown.