Movie Review

Gangster Squad

No names. No badges. No mercy.
Gangster Squad Movie Poster

US Release Date: 01-10-2013

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer


  • Josh Brolin
  • Sergeant John O'Mara
  • Ryan Gosling
  • Sergeant Jerry Wooters
  • Sean Penn
  • Mickey Cohen
  • Emma Stone
  • Grace Faraday
  • Nick Nolte
  • Chief Bill Parker
  • Anthony Mackie
  • Detective Coleman Harris
  • Giovanni Ribisi
  • Detective Conway Keeler
  • Michael Pena
  • Detective Navidad Ramirez
  • Robert Patrick
  • Detective Max Kennard
  • Mireille Enos
  • Connie O'Mara
  • Holt McCallany
  • Karl Lennox
  • Josh Pence
  • Daryl Gates
  • Frank Grillo
  • Jimmy Reagan
  • Sullivan Stapleton
  • Jack Whalen
  • Troy Garity
  • Wrevock
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: January 13th, 2013
Giovanni Ribisi, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick are the Gangster Squad.

Giovanni Ribisi, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick are the Gangster Squad.

Gangster Squad stylishly recreates Golden Era Hollywood and it boasts a big name cast of talented actors to bring these walking-cliched characters to life. It is marred by ridiculously cartoonish action scenes and a paint by numbers script derivative of many, superior, movies that came before it. L.A. Confidential, The Untouchables and Mulholland Falls (to name the first that come to mind) all depicted the era and setting better.

The plot is loosely based on true life. In 1949 Hollywood a covert squad of LAPD officers is brought together to fight syndicated crime that has migrated West from cities like Chicago. Mickey Cohen (played to the hilt by a mugging Sean Penn) is a ruthless, egomaniac that rules Los Angeles's underbelly with an iron fist.

The cops, led by Josh Brolin (sporting an obvious dye job) as Seargent John O'Mara, attempt to put Cohen out of business before he can complete his takover of the entire bookmaking operations of the western half of the United States. According to the script, once he completes this move he will be too powerful to touch, so these cops must act with all due dispatch.

Ryan Gosling plays his usual cool as a cucumber cop. He has a romance with Cohen's main moll played by Emma Stone. As they proved in Crazy, Stupid, Love they have crazy, stupid chemistry together even if the script never really convinces us just why they love each other so much.

The remainder of the squad includes a black cop who's an expert knife thrower, an older cowboy-type cop with a young Mexican sidekick, and a nerdy electronics expert. These supporting players provide much of the humor and elevate the entertainment level of the movie.

The plot is painfully predictable. You can tell exactly just who will die and who will live. And the bad guys are such horrible shots that it almost seems like they are firing blanks. Seriously, Storm Troopers have better aim. There are several scenes where a bad guy is blasting away with a tommy-gun in each hand and the good guys seem to move around in the line of fire with impunity. It was so ridiculous that it ruined all of the action scenes for me.

Gangster Squad is easy on the eyes and the cast gamely gives it their all. Still they are unable to make up for the unoriginal script and badly staged, over-the-top action sequences.

Reviewed on: January 13th, 2013
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in Gangster Squad.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in Gangster Squad.

Patrick mentioned several movies of which this one is reminiscent and I agree that it does share certain traits with them. To my mind though, it's almost a direct remake of The Untouchables, with only a few differences. In both films you have a do-gooder cop who recruits a small force of police officers to do battle with a mobster who is running the town they live in with impunity. Although, also as Patrick said, this movie doesn't live up to the original. It's a pulp version more suitable for this video game era.

Many of the characters in this film are so similar to ones in The Untouchables that you can make direct comparisons. Josh Brolin has Kevin Costner's part. Sean Penn has Robert De Niro's, Robert Patrick has Sean Connery's, Giovanni Ribisi has Charles Martin Smith's, and Anthony Mackie has Andy Garcia's. Even, the same characters die in both films. If you remember which of the Untouchables died, then you'll know which of the Gangster Squad does also.

Gosling and Emma Stone play the only two characters who don't have a direct correlation in that earlier film. Again as Patrick said, they share a great chemistry together and they both look good in the clothes of that earlier era. I didn't need another reason as to why they were in love beyond the obvious, which is that they're both crazy, stupid, good looking.

Patrick mentioned the script contrivance that once Cohen finishes setting up his bookmaking office that he will be untouchable but it's never fully explained just why that is. As for the action scenes, like Patrick I found the aiming ability of Cohen's goons to be laughable. This is particularly silly when you consider they're using machine guns of all types. At one point a portion of Los Angeles looks like a war zone to the point that you'd expect the national guard to be called in to put a stop to it.

Despite the plot being quite silly and the action scenes being completely over-the-top, I did still kind of enjoy this movie. It's only the few moments when it tries to take itself seriously that it fails utterly. It's basically a comic book film noir and it needed to remember that by keeping its tongue firmly in its cheek. I don't mean make it a comedy, although some of the more humorous moments are the better ones, but simply not take itself overly seriously, which it does occasionally. I mean, unlike The Untouchables, nobody is going to win an Oscar for this one.

Reviewed on: January 16th, 2013
Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling in Gangster Squad

Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling in Gangster Squad

I am not a big Ryan Gosling fan. As Patrick wrote, he plays his usual cool character. "Plays" being the appropriate word. Gosling seems to be working over time to appear as if he is as smooth as they come. Notice how in an early scene he is not wearing a tie when everyone else is. See how sharp he looks when wearing his hat indoors, when nobody else is. Watch him smoke as if it makes him seem all the more tough. His worst habit of all is the way he flips his lighter shut. Gosling tried very hard to make this guy as cool as possible, but he ends up more of a phony poser than a Humphrey Bogart. 

Josh Brolin fairs much better, His middle aged good looks give him an air of worldly experience that Gosling's baby face lacks. It is easier to take Brolin's Sergeant O'Mara serious than it is the cocky Sergeant Wooters. O'Mara has a wife to protect. Wooters wants to get laid. O'Mara is a soldier looking for a war. Wooters is a punk looking for a party.

My favorite actor in the film was Sullivan Stapleton as Jack Whalen, a man who may or may not be trusted. This Australian born actor is one of those guys who does not have to put any pretense into creating screen presence. With his large forehead and natural masculine demeanor, he makes Gosling look like a member of a boy band. Although already a major star in Australia, Stapleton's career is on the rise elsewhere as his next film is the prequel to 300 in which he plays the role made famous by Gerard Butler.

As for the rest of the cast-Emma Stone wears her clothes nice enough but is no Rita Hayworth. Sean Penn plays Cohen with a single note. We never see him as anything but an insane threat to anyone and everyone around him. At no point does he ever become even slightly human.

Gangster Squad moves along at a quick, however predictable pace. There is enough action and gun fire to keep your interest, The time period is nicely recreated, although it rewrites history. Mickey Cohen was not sentenced to prison as depicted in this film. All this movie has is what is on the surface. There is no depth to speak of what-so-ever. Gangster Squad is the kind of movie you watch, you enjoy and you forget.

Related Reviews