Gangster Squad (2013)

Rated R. Our ratings: V-10, L-10, S/N 2. Length: 1 hour 53 min.

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient
times, ‘You shall not murder’;and ‘whoever murders
shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you
are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to
judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will
be liable to the council; and if you say,
‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
Matthew 5:21-22

“Repay no one evil for evil…”
Romans 12:17

This is the problem with Gangster Squad, and a thousand other movies with various adjustments of the same theme. When evil thrives among us, how do we make it stop? Become more evil? What does one do with

Capone? With Mickey Cohen? The answer Gangster Squad offers is predictably and indelibly printed upon the fabric of our culture; that is, if the cheers that erupted in the theater as the credits ran are any indication. Gangster Squad is all about redemptive violence; and the violence in this movie, both redemptive and otherwise was nearly off the chart.

It is the Bonhoeffer dilemma. Bonhoeffer, a Protestant theologian, was a pacifist during the rise of Hitler. His dilemma? Does one allow evil to win, or take up arms against it? Would Bonhoeffer remain a pacifist, or would he act to help destroy Hitler? Ultimately he chose the latter course.

Director Ruben Fleischer wastes no time making the case for taking up arms by presenting Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) as the sadistic killer that he was. Penn at his menacing best, (No Harvey Milk here.) did a good job making the case for someone, somewhere, to do something to rid Los Angeles of Cohen.

Gangster Squad was conceived by then LAPD Chief of Police William “Whiskey Bill” Parker (Nick Nolte). This plan was to recruit a small unit that would employ urban guerilla/terror tactics to shut down Cohen’s mob. There were to be no badges, no ID, no habeas corpus, no arrests, especially no arrests. The apparent mission of the Gangster Squad was to bring Mickey Cohen down by any means necessary.

And they did. How they did it is the stuff of the 113 minutes running time. Performances by Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling, along with Robert Patrick who played Det. Max Kennard, the 1949 version of “Dirty Harry” Callahan, keep things going. The technical aspect of the movie was eloquent. The photography was lush, the popular music of the day was well represented and the special effects were, well, special.

El Tigre (Ed’s apprentice, a.k.a. Rev. Don Smith)