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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Gangster Squad

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


James Carpinello, Sean Penn and Evan Cohen star in a scene from the movie "Gangster Squad."
Early on in the stylish but excessively violent cops-and-robbers tale "Gangster Squad" (Warner Bros.), the villain of the piece—a reptilian gangster played by Sean Penn—has a rival chained to two cars which drive off in opposite directions, tearing the victim in half.

That's a fair tipoff of the mayhem to come which, taken together with the film's murky morality, makes this fact-based drama, directed by Ruben Fleischer, suitable only for the most stalwart adult viewers.

Penn's baddie, Mickey Cohen, is a Brooklyn-bred ex-boxer intent on making 1940s Los Angeles his own. Out to stop him, by any means necessary, is the metropolis' police chief, William Parker (Nick Nolte).

Parker commissions idealistic World War II veteran Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) to form the team of the title. Made up, most prominently, of slickster and fellow Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), tough African-American officer Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie) and electronics expert Conwell Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), the squad will operate outside the law to break Cohen's power.

Along the way to a conclusive shootout that seems to reap as many casualties as a small-scale military operation, Wooters secretly romances—and straightforwardly seduces—Cohen's good-hearted moll Grace Faraday (Emma Stone).

O'Mara and company occasionally express second thoughts about their methods. But screenwriter Will Beall's script, adapted from Paul Lieberman's eponymous book, presents their illegal actions as the only practical solution open to them.

Given Cohen's ruthlessness—he eventually orders a machine-gun attack on O'Mara's home, endangering the upright sergeant's pregnant wife, Connie (Mireille Enos)—the audience is invited to react as viscerally as the characters to his seemingly unstoppable reign of terror. Moviegoers will require maturity and prudence to work through the tangled ethics of the situation—and a strong stomach to endure the wild gunplay and interludes of brutality.

The film contains a vigilantism theme, scenes of gruesome, bloody violence, a premarital situation, brief partial nudity, numerous uses of profanity and much rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Martyrdom of John the Baptist: The drunken oath of a king with a shallow sense of honor, a seductive dance and the hateful heart of a queen combined to bring about the martyrdom of John the Baptist. The greatest of prophets suffered the fate of so many Old Testament prophets before him: rejection and martyrdom. The “voice crying in the desert” did not hesitate to accuse the guilty, did not hesitate to speak the truth. But why? What possesses a man that he would give up his very life? 
<p>This great religious reformer was sent by God to prepare the people for the Messiah. His vocation was one of selfless giving. The only power that he claimed was the Spirit of Yahweh. “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Scripture tells us that many people followed John looking to him for hope, perhaps in anticipation of some great messianic power. John never allowed himself the false honor of receiving these people for his own glory. He knew his calling was one of preparation. When the time came, he led his disciples to Jesus: “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37). It is John the Baptist who has pointed the way to Christ. John’s life and death were a giving over of self for God and other people. His simple style of life was one of complete detachment from earthly possessions. His heart was centered on God and the call that he heard from the Spirit of God speaking to his heart. Confident of God’s grace, he had the courage to speak words of condemnation or repentance, of salvation.</p> American Catholic Blog Once you begin to neglect obedience, one by one everything goes. Obedience is difficult but that’s where love comes from. There are so many broken families because a woman will not obey a man and a man will not obey a woman. We belong to Jesus and obedience is our strength. You must do small acts of obedience with great love.

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