By Mikhail Chernyavsky

In its previews, “Gangster Squad” is already being called one of the best gangster films of the decade. Considering we are only days into this year, and only three years into the decade, it doesn’t amount to much.

Regardless, Squad is a wonderfully glamorized shoot ‘em up about the taste of Chicago mob-flair that graced Los Angeles in the 1940s and 1950s.

Based on the book of the same title, Squad tells the story of ruthless Jewish mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and the rule he had over the city of angels.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for his public soapboxing, Penn proves once again that he is an immensely incredible actor.

We are first introduced to Cohen, a former boxer, vigorously hitting a punching bag in slow motion. The purpose and determination with which he hits the bag foreshadows the ferocious and violent man that he is throughout the film. Ruthless, he has no problem getting his hands dirty in his fits of rage.

Opposite Penn, is “Milk” co-star Josh Brolin as Sgt. John O’Mara. Although Brolin is enjoyable and carries the star-studded cast well, he seems to be playing the same cold-hearted brut we’ve seen before in films like “American Gangster” and even the horrible “Jonah Hex.”

However, the lack of Oscar performances doesn’t hurt this noire-esqe film. Helmed by “Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer, the film is artfully beautiful. Stylistically it has a graphic novel feel with a tip of the fedora to old gangster films like “The Untouchables.”

For my fellow gamers, the film felt very much like Rockstar’s “L.A. Noire.” The suits were smooth and finely pressed, and of course everyone had one of those felt hats.

Squad also reunites “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” co-stars Ryan Gosling (Sgt. Jerry Wooters) and Emma Stone (Grace Faraday). For the ladies, Gosling is thrown into the typical wise-mouthed playboy that he’s played before in, well, “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”

I didn’t really care for Stone performance – it’s a first. I’ve loved her in her previous comedic efforts in “Zombieland” and “Easy A.” However, much like her performance in “The Help,” I found her character to fall flat. She didn’t really drive any part of the story except add a love interest for the two young pretty people in the film.

Yet, like the title of “best gangster film this decade,” the repeat performances don’t matter. What does matter is that this cast had wonderful chemistry on screen, regardless of my movie-nerd bickering.

The film’s action keeps you at the edge of your seat and it’s beautiful to look at, that is, if you can stomach some over-the-top violence.


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