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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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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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