The opening title card of Gangster Squad says “inspired by a true story,” which is pretty funny, considering the movie immediately following it is Sin City meets Young Guns in the form of a Jimmy Cagney parody. As I was watching it, I couldn’t help but think “wait, wait, slow down, which part of this is the true part? Is it the black guy who throws knives? The evil mobster who says things like ‘I miss that red snatch!’ and ‘you know the drill,’ before he kills guys with a power drill? Ooh, or maybe it’s the lead evil henchman with a scarred eye, or the part where the cop and the bad guy drop their weapons to ‘settle it like men’ in a climactic fist fight!” Goodness, am I even going to be able to review this without a history degree? Books should have more slow-motion shell casings falling to the floor, I always say.
I haven’t read Tales from the Gangster Squad, the stylized non-fiction book by LA Times reporter Paul Lieberman (collected from his series in the Times) upon which the Will Beall script was based, but as far as I can tell, the true part of Gangster Squad is that some of the names and places are real, as well as a couple throwaway lines about Frank Sinatra and the idea that there was a unit called “the gangster squad” in the first place. The rest? Let’s just say… liberties seem to have been taken. I can’t help but doubt the veracity of a movie that begins with a fake-nosed Sean Penn laughing as he has an enemy torn in half by two cars pulling in opposite directions. “Do ya woist, Mickey!”, the doomed guy shouts, defiant until the bitter end, as eighties action movie logic would dictate. No need for empathy here! When underlings fail him, Penn’s Cohen has them shot, burned alive, murdered with power drills, etc., like the Darth Vader of Sin City, only without Frank Miller’s penchant for high contrast and constant crotch trauma. I realize “Mickey Cohen” was a real guy, but if we depicted Al Capone as a mustache-twirling evil-doer, cackling as he tied a swooning dame to the railroad tracks, what would the compelling part of that be? That it was… uh… inspired by… true-ishness? I don’t get it.
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