Ryan Gosling, who plays Sgt Jerry Wooters, and Emma Stone as Grace Farraday
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Rating: 3 Out Of 5 Stars
Published: 10 January, 2013
by DAN CARRIER
LOS Angeles may be known for the movie industry but it went hand in hand with corruption that was as bad as anything served up by the mobsters in Chicago and New York.
As soon as the oil wells started pumping at the turn of the 20th century, LA attracted a breed of crook who were not just simple, gun-toting villains (though there were plenty of them) – they found themselves being elected to positions of responsibility in the city state.
This film tells the story of how a group of police officers decided to take the gloves off and go after the underworld bosses. They were called the “Gangster Squad”.
The material for this film came from the former LA Times crime writer Paul Lieberman: he wrote a chronicle of the fight for the soul of the city in the immediate post-war period.
It is a well-trodden literary path. As Graham Greene discovered, LA had been a den of thieves for the vast majority of the 20th century until war interrupted the crime syndicates. And the crooks went right through the city hierarchy and civic structure.
Lieberman’s book tells the story of a small force of officers who decided enough was enough and spent time from the mid-1940s through the 1950s trying to take the fight to the gangsters.
There is much to commend this film. The cast is excellent, while some parts of the dialogue sing along nicely. The soundtrack is absolutely superb. But it lacks a plot to make you come out and go “phew-wee”. It is also far too glamorous to be believable.
Gunshots splatter against everything except the intended targets, and the charmed lives of the leads make you feel that everything else must be taken with a pinch of salt.
There is also an element of a plot that telegraphs its twists far too readily. You keep expecting something – anything – to happen to turn the whole shebang on its head and give it a semblance of thriller noir.
But there are some very good points to this film that make it boisterous fun. Los Angeles of 1949 is one stylish city, and when the macho gun nonsense begins to drag, you can always daydream of wearing one of the natty suits on display with one of the ravishing female characters on your arm, strolling in to hear the house band at the Art Deco bar Slapsy Maxies, where some of the action takes place. But the balance between the glamour of the period and the grotesque violence is not well struck. It could have done with a dose of the type of cleverness that made films such as The Sting so watchable.
Instead, it is style winning over substance.