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Film / Gangster Squad

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Straight gangster.

Gangster Squad is a 2013 crime thriller directed by Ruben Fleischer, which follows a group of detectives in the LAPD who fight against the West Coast Mafia, led by notorious gangster Mickey Cohen, in 1949.

Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is a former boxer-turned-gangster who maintains an iron grip on Los Angeles, and runs a series of prostitution and drug rackets that have the city locked in a sea of corruption. After busting one of Cohen's men when he attempts to rape a young woman, Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) is approached by the LAPD's Chief of Police, Bill Parker (Nick Nolte), to create a special squad that will take down Cohen's empire by any means necessary. To that end, O'Mara recruits a group of five men to help him, including patrolman Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), gunslinger Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), wiretapping expert Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), new recruit Navidad Ramírez (Michael Peña) and Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling).

As the team begins to take out more and more of Cohen's establishments, the gangster steps up his search for them and declares an all-out war on the squad. Complicating matters is Wooters' burgeoning relationship with Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), who is Cohen's girlfriend. The conflict eventually leads into a final confrontation, with the very soul of Los Angeles at stake.

The film is a Genre Throwback to the Film Noir movies of the 1940's and 50's, and was released in January 2013. A key sequence involving a group of mobsters shooting through a screen in a movie theater was reshot due to the film's proximity to the 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting.

This film provides examples of:

  • An Arm and a Leg: O'Mara defeats one of Cohen's goons by shoving the goon's hand out of an elevator and it gets severed on one of the floors. Since only the three goons that tried to rape the girl were seen again, this guy probably died.
  • An Asskicking Christmas: Most of the film takes place around Christmas. Notably, O'Mara's Christmas tree is still standing after Cohen has his residence shot up, and the climax takes place in a hotel lobby with a large tree and plenty of presents.
    Mickey Cohen: Here comes Santy Claus!
  • Anti-Hero: Most characters seem to show no mercy towards their enemies, even bullying them or torturing them instead of just killing them, and save for Keeler, they show no remorse for the things they do to the mooks in their way. O'Mara's wife encourages him to invoke this when recruiting his squad, stating that the "Boyscouts" he's been looking at are probably dirty.
  • Badass Crew: The titular Gangster Squad. They give the Untouchables a run for their money.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: The whole Squad wears tuxedos to the Slapsy Maxie’s raid.
  • Bad Boss: Cohen. Cohen. Cohen. Just look at what he does to his underlings when they screw up even slightly... At least once, screwing up is taken literally.
  • Big Bad: Mickey Cohen, the man responsible for causing illegal businesses and prostitution rings to become rampant in Los Angeles.
  • Big Good: Chief Bill Parker, who recruits O'Mara and tasks him with creating the squad.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted. Harris is shot, but survives.
  • Blood Knight: Mickey Cohen.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Cohen's boxing skills are alluded to several times in the film. The final shootout ends with O'Mara and Cohen having an impromptu boxing match after the latter's car crashes.
    • During the squad's first training scene, Kennard tells Navidad (while demonstrating skeet shooting with a tin can) that he should not focus on where the target is, but where it will be. Navidad later uses this skill to shoot and kill Cohen's last surviving lieutenant, who is about to execute O'Mara during the climax.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Jerry Wooters seems to be aware that he's a guy played by Ryan Gosling, and even tells Grace when meeting her that he only wants to get her into bed, but later it's clearly shown that he cares deeply for her.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: John O'Mara, who gets chewed out by his commanding officer after he saves a young woman from being raped by Cohen's men at a brothel. It's also the reason why Parker chooses him to create the squad.
  • Co-Dragons: Karl Lockwood and Wrevock serve this role to Mickey Cohen. Karl is Mickey's bodyguard, while Wrevock is Cohen's primary hitman. The former does higher end assassinations, such as the Dragnas and Keeler.
  • Cowboy Cop: The movie is about a whole squad of them. Bonus points for Kennard, who literally looks and talks like a cowboy while carrying a Colt Single Action Army revolver on a western-style gunbelt dressed in a business suit.
  • Creative Closing Credits: The main credits are overlaid on vintage 40's postcards.
  • Da Chief: Chief Bill Parker, who assigns O'Mara to create the squad that will operate anonymously to take down Cohen's empire.
  • Deadly Euphemism: When Cohen's men come to kill O'Mara and Harris, who are in jail, they refer to the order as "taking out trash, two bags".
  • Deadpan Snarker: Coleman Harris and Wooters are the ones who make the most deadpan quips about the situations they're into.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Happens for Wooters when the shoeshine boy is hit by a Tommy gun bullet while some of Cohen's gang members are trying to whack Dragna.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Wooters briefly pretends to be one of Cohen's men to get Harris and O'Mara out of jail before they get killed by Cohen's actual henchmen.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: With Navidad's help, the mortally wounded Kennard takes out Karl before the henchman can kill O'Mara. He then hands the gun to Navidad and compliments him with a "That's my boy" before slumping over.
  • Epic Fail: The squad's first operation (in Burbank) gets inexplicably worse by the minute. The team tries to take down one of Cohen's casinos at gunpoint, only to run smackdab into a group of armed officers who arrest Harris and O'Mara after they fail to get into the squad's car while giving it a running boost. The two men get arrested and thrown in jail (after being briefly beaten), and are set to be picked up and whacked by Cohen's men. The team arrives to save them, but Kennard's plan of tying a rope from his vehicle to the prison window bars fails (the bumper gets ripped off the car), Keeler's plan to cut the power results in chaos in the prison block, and the whole thing would have gone south if Wooters hadn't shown up. Harris lampshades Kennard's attempt, calling it the "dumbest thing [he's] ever seen", with Kennard firing back "You're in detention, I'm the dummy?"
  • Femme Fatale: Grace.
  • Fiery Cover-Up: Cohen has a hotel masquerading as a front for a brothel burned to the ground (along with the three men who failed him), because he doesn't want the police to find out and can collect the insurance money.
  • Firing One-Handed: With a shotgun, no less. Wooters is able to do this because he's practically touching his target, who is lying on the ground.
  • Fisticuffs Boss: O'Mara's final showdown with Cohen is a demonstration of Cohen's boxing skills.
  • A God Am I: "You're talking to God, Mitch, so you might as well swear to me."
  • Good Guns, Bad Guns: While sidearms are all over the place (mostly American), the final shootout has the Squad attacking Mickey Cohen's stronghold wielding M1A1 Thompsons while Cohen's goons (and Cohen himself) get trigger-happy with MP-40s and M1928 Thompsons.
  • Gorn: A man is pulled apart by two cars in the opening scene. Many more are riddled with bullets and burns onscreen throughout. If you get more than one or two punches in the face in this movie, you'll get a deep crimson mask.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Used when a gangster fails and is punished via a power drill to the head as the camera moves behind a cloudy glass window.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: The Squad's actions were not recorded in history and the Chief of Police got all the credit, so only the Squad's friends and family know what they did.
  • Grenade Hot Potato: During a chase scene with a group of mobsters transporting a drug shipment, one of the mobsters lights a grenade and tosses it onto the hood of the vehicle Wooters and O'Mara are in. Wooters has enough time to shoot out the front window, pick the grenade and lob it backwards over the hood of the car before it explodes behind them.
  • Guns Akimbo: Wrevock does it with Tommyguns in Chinatown.
  • Gun Porn: This film is full of World War II era guns, most notably the Thompson submachine-gun.
  • The Gunslinger: Kennard, preferring his Colt Single Action Army revolver to anything else. When the Squad brings out Tommy guns for the final shootout, Kennard declines, saying he'll "dance with what brung me."
  • Gun Struggle:
    • O'Mara gets into one with one of Cohen's Mooks in an elevator with another Mook. In the struggle, O'Mara forces the Mook he's struggling with to shoot his partner, then forces his hand out of the elevator, severing it on the approaching floor.
    • When Jerry goes to spring O'Mara and Harris from jail, one of the guards realizes that he's not one of Cohen's guys and pulls his sidearm. After every shot goes off in different directions (with the camera freeze-framing with each shot), Jerry just punches him out.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Mickey may react to bad news in a calm manner, but he'll immediately have you killed afterwards, regardless of how minute it is.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: The first person Cohen has killed onscreen dies when two cars rip his body in half.
  • The Heavy: Mickey Cohen.
  • Hellish L.A.: A 1940s example, in which organized crime runs the city and is on a rampage.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Jack Whalen confronts Cohen at the Garden of Allah Hotel in order to buy Grace some time to escape, and while he does put up a good fight against Cohen and his men, he is soon executed and thrown into the hotel pool.
  • Hero Killer: Karl Lockwood. He assassinates the Dragnas, kills Keeler (while setting his own back on fire), and guns down Kennard in the final shootout.
  • Historical Beauty Update: For Mickey Cohen.
  • Historical Domain Character: Aside from Cohen and O'Mara, Darryl Gates (the eventual chief of the L.A. Police Department), who appears as an officer.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Mickey Cohen, whose historically violent tendencies are taken up to eleven in the film. The film also has him indulge in Bad Boss antics worthy of a James Bond villain.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: One of the gangsters tossing grenades in the Car Chase is killed when he's bumped by Navidad and drops a grenade, blowing himself and two of his compatriots.
  • Hollywood History: The film plays very fast and loose with the real-life events that inspired the movie.
    • The real John O'Mara was not a gunsmith at all, and was claimed to have only fired one shot in his entire career (a warning shot at a perpetrator). In the film, Brolin's O'Mara shoots men in the legs and kills several others with a Tommy gun.
    • In the film, Cohen is arrested after a final confrontation with O'Mara outside of a hotel. In real life, Cohen was only arrested twice, for federal income tax evasion in the early 50's and in 1961.
    • Con Keeler was not killed by Cohen's men, and lived to be interviewed for the book that Gangster Squad is based on.
    • Jack Dragna was never killed by Cohen. He died of a heart attack at a Los Angeles motel in 1956, after facing the threat of deportation and a campaign of harassment by the Gangster Squad.
    • Jack Whalen died in 1959, shot in the head at Rondelli's in Sherman Oaks. Cohen associate Frank LoCigno was charged with the murder but eventually acquitted, although some (John O'Mara in particular) believed that Mickey Cohen himself fired the fatal shot.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Kennard, who shoots a tin can six times in the air while using a single-action (cocked for each shot) revolver.
  • Instant Seduction: Wooters' explanation that he's a bible salesman (and that he only wants to get her into bed) is enough for Grace to go home with him a few minutes after meeting him - and while she's with Cohen, no less.
  • It's Personal with the Dragon: Jerry develops a grudge against Cohen's enforcer Wrevock after Wrevock kills Jerry's friend Pete. The two exchange bullets multiple times throughout the film, ending in the climactic hotel shootout where Jerry finally kills Wrevock.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Standard tactics for the Squad.
  • Just in Time: Wooters arrives just in time to save O'Mara from being blown up by a explosive-rigged truck planted by Cohen's men in Chinatown.
  • Kill It with Fire:
    • Cohen traps a few failures in an elevator and then starts a fire in the building they are in.
    • Jerry kills four Mooks at Slapsy Maxie's by lighting the room on fire with a burning packet of money.
  • Kosher Nostra: Mickey Cohen and his gang have strong ties to The Mafia based in the East Coast.
  • Lady in Red: When we first see Grace.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The gangster who gets corrosive acid poured on his balls by Wooters can't really be felt sorry for, as he was planning to throw the acid in Grace's face.
  • Loveable Rogue: Jack Whalen.
  • Maternity Crisis: Cohen's attack on the O'Mara home (while he isn't there) causes his wife to go into premature labor, and she manages to crawl into a washroom and give birth in a bathtub.
  • Meaningful Name: Navidad Ramírez. "Navidad" is the Spanish word for Christmas, and most of the film occurs around Christmastime.
  • Model Scam: In the opening, a young woman is approached by one of Cohen's men to audition for a film role soon after arriving in L.A. She is almost raped by three of Cohen's men after arriving at the apartment (which is on Cohen's turf), but is saved by O'Mara before anything happens. The three men are subsequently then offed by being locked up in an elevator in a building that is then burned down for the insurance money.
  • Montage: About halfway through the film, there's one of the Squad conducting raids on Cohen's businesses and beating up his men.
  • Mutual Kill: Kennard is fatally shot by Karl during the final shootout, but manages to gun him down before he can kill O'Mara before dying of his wounds.
  • Oh, Crap!: One of the prison guards does this when two of Cohen's men show up to take O'Mara and Harris away for execution, realizing that Wooters, who was pretending to be a hitman, isn't part of Cohen’s gang.
  • Old Master: Max Kennard is an old gunhand and teaches Ramírez in the craft.
  • The Oner: The scene where Wooters first meets Whalen at the nightclub is one long continuous 80 second long tracking shot, following Wooters from when he meets with Pete outside, pays him off, and then follows him all the way to his seat.
  • One-Steve Limit: Jack Whalen and Jack Dragna have secondary roles in the film. Justified, as both are based on historical figures.
  • Outside Ride: When Mickey Cohen flees from the shootout at the climax of the film, O'Mara follows by jumping onto the back of the car and holding on. He is helped by the fact the rear window had been shot out earlier.
  • Post-Climax Confrontation: The climax is the squad's assault on the hotel where Cohen is holed, but the final confrontation (between O'Mara and Cohen) doesn't occur until after Cohen's car crashes into a water fountain a couple blocks away.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: After Pete gets shot, Wooters comes up shooting at the hitmen. The hitman with the shotgun falls while the two with the Thompson submachine guns get into the car and flee. Wooters steps up to the fallen hitman:
    Hitman: You can't shoot me, you're a cop.
    Wooters: Not anymore. [blasts his head off with the hitman's shotgun]
  • Pretty in Mink: Grace wears a fur-trimmed coat, a mink-trimmed stole, and a white fox wrap in various scenes.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: In light of an actual incident, the trailers and ads were pulled from films and TV due to a scene where a shoot out takes place in a movie theater. The cast and crew actually got together afterward to film another scene (the Chinatown sting operation) to replace the cinema scene. The result was the film being pushed back several months, but the filmmakers avoided some serious backlash.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Chief Bill Parker, the Only Sane Man amongst a bunch of corrupt Obstructive Bureaucrat types, and who agrees with O'Mara's approach to fighting Cohen.
  • Refusal of the Call: Wooters seems content to let things stay the way they are because he knows he can't change anything. He doesn't get into the squad until Pete the shoeshine boy is shot when Cohen's men attempt to assassinate a fellow mob figure, which provides the catalyst for him to finally help O'Mara.
  • Returning War Vet: O'Mara, Wooters and Keeler all served in WWII. Wooters was a Navy aviator, and as such, his experience doesn't come into play (although it's mentioned in dialogue to Grace). However, O'Mara was an OSS operative and thus experienced in guerrilla warfare, and Keeler was in Army Intelligence, meaning learning how to gather information.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Kennard, and later, Ramírez, decant for revolvers.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Keeler, strangled by Karl while the squad is in Chinatown.
  • Sex God: A throwaway line from Connie early on implies that she's more than satisfied with John's performance between the sheets.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: All of the squad members, although it is shown that O'Mara doesn't know how to do his tie up well (seeing as it comes down to different lengths throughout the film).
  • Spiritual Successor: The movie is the closest thing to a modern day remake of Brian De Palma's The Untouchables since it focuses on a group of police officers sent to take down a real-life mob boss only with a Setting Update to 1940s Los Angeles, a cast comprised of well-known actors and even more Artistic License taken for the sake of the story.
  • Take Up My Sword: Kennard gives his revolver to Ramírez just before he dies from a bullet wound inflicted by Cohen's Dragon Karl.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Jerry empties an entire magazine into Wrevock during the final shootout.
  • Trouble Entendre: After getting word of the hit on the drug shipment, Cohen tells his main assassin, "You know the drill", which both means "Kill the guy who brought me the bad news," and also means, "Use the power drill and drill a hole through his brain."
  • Unflinching Walk: Played with. The gang starts to walk away from a soon-exploding car, and when it goes up in flames they turn to look at it. Very casually.
  • Unfriendly Fire: O'Mara forces one of Cohen's men to shoot the henchman's partner in a fight in an elevator.
  • Vapor Trail: When Cohen's goon attempt to ambush the squad in Chinatown, they open the fuel tank in the truck the squad are converging on. One of the gangsters then tosses his lit cigarette into the pooling fuel to light it up.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Cohen was actually taken down for income tax evasion charges, not for murder.
  • Villainous Breakdown: During which Cohen's maid hurries Grace out of the house before he "runs out of pretty things to break..."
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: O'Mara narrates what happened to the characters after the events of the film: Grace's testimony ensures Cohen is sentenced to 25 to life at Alcatraz, where he is welcomed violently by Whalen's friends. Grace and Wooters stay together and he stays on the force, while Ramírez and Harris become partners on the beat, with Ramírez patrolling with Kennard's signature Colt Single Action Army on his hip. O'Mara himself quits to live a quiet life in Los Angeles with Connie and their son.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Wrevock guns down Pete the shoeshine boy in front of Wooters during a hit on Jack Dragna.
  • You Have Failed Me: Mickey Cohen does not tolerate his men screwing up. He'll have them torn apart by cars, lock them up in an elevator and burn down the building, or have their head drilled through.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: One of the gangsters who was shot down by Wooters says this to him, saying that he's a cop. Wooters is a Cowboy Cop and said gangster had just shot a kid dead, so he was very mistaken; Wooters finishes him off.