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Fans of classic gangster films have a lot to like in “Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer’s ’40s-set “Gangster Squad”, a film that I think would have done much better at the box office if not for the “Dark Knight Rises” shooting tragedy that delayed the film from 2012 to 2013, and force reshoots. I’m not sure what they took out in the aftermath of that, but the results Fleischer delivered is pretty outstanding. “Gangster Squad” now shoots its way onto Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and Digital Download this April 23, 2013 courtesy of Warner Home Video.
Set in 1949 Los Angeles, the film follows the brutal rise of Chicago gangster Mickey Cohen, an uncouth, vicious, snarling piece of shit played by Sean Penn, who climbs the L.A. mob scene by, well, killing everyone in his way. With seemingly every cop and city bureaucrat in his pocket, the last line of defense against Cohen’s tyranny is former WWII war hero Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), a simple, by-the-books, good guy-in-white-hat cop who is quite possibly the last honest cop on the force. Almost. Nick Nolte plays the L.A.P.D. police Chief who decides the only way to take down Cohen is to go after him head-on, and he recruits O’Mara for the task. O’Mara, in turn, assembles his own gang — the Gangster Squad, if you will.
I’ve always been a big fan of Tommy Gun wielding gangsters, so it’s no surprise that “Gangster Squad” is right up my alley. Based on the non-fiction book by Paul Lieberman, the movie is what you would call true story-ish. (This is Hollywood, after all.) Even for those who didn’t know a Mickey Cohen actually existed in real life, the film is a fun ride through the “golden age” of Hollywood. Well, the seedier, bloodier side of Hollywood, anyway. You’ve got tough guys in trench coats, police investigations that involve fists and guns (and that’s about it), not to mention painfully gorgeous gangster molls like Emma Stone’s improbably named Grace Faraday. Let’s face it, that’s the kind of gal (with that kind of name) that only exists in 1940s gangster movies.
Violent, over-the-top, but with a surprising layer of grittiness, “Gangster Squad” is pretty fun. O’Mara’s gang includes the slick Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who spends his days busting up Cohen’s illegal business and his nights sacking up with Cohen’s mistress (played by Stone). It’s a dangerous game the two are playing, but if anyone can pull it off, you suspect Wooters might be the man. Robert Patrick plays Max Kennard, the only cop on the beat who still wears his six-shooter in a gunfighter’s rig. Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Pena round out the gangster squad. Mireille Enos (“The Killing”) is fantastic as O’Mara’s pregnant wife, who accepts her man’s true calling, even if she has to be practical for the both of them. If you skipped the film when it finally opened theatrical earlier this year, catch it on DVD/Blu-ray.
When Warner Bros. puts their mind to putting out a great Blu-ray, they go above and beyond. “Gangster Squad” gets the full treatment, which includes “The Gangland Files”, a picture-in-picture experience that’s best watched, as most PIP functions are on these Blu-rays, after you have seen the movie at least once already. “Focus Points: The Set Up” gives you about 50 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes, with a big emphasis on onscreen lovebirds Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Movie tough guy William Devane shows up to narrate the nearly hour-long “Rogues Gallery: Mickey Cohen”, a documentary that takes a look at the real-life mobster at the center of the film.
Rounding out the special features are about 10 minutes of deleted scenes (with intro) and a full-length audio commentary by director Ruben Fleischer. I expected the guy who gave us “Zombieland” to be more animated, but Fleischer is pretty by-the-numbers and a tad dull. “Then and Now Locations” and “Tough Guys with Style” are a pair of featurettes that you could probably do without, but watch it anyway if you’re into the era that “Gangster Squad” plays in.