Movie Review: Gangster Squad


Stars: Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, Michael Michael Pena

Rated R for for strong violence and language, Running time 92 minutes, Action/Crime/Drama

Compare to: The Untouchables (1987), Tombstone (1993)

It’s funny how attracted people are to the lifestyle of gangsters and killers. No matter what they’ve been exposed for doing, people never tire of the old school ways of suits, guns, cars, and basically just doing whatever you want, regardless of what side of the law you’re on.

Set in Los Angeles, 1949, crime is running rampant in the streets in part thanks to ruthless mob boss, Mickey Cohen (Penn). Fed up with the helplessness and constant barrage of criminal acts, Police Chief Bill Parker (Nolte) sets up a secret, off the record group of cops to forget taking names and putting guys behind bars, but to completely destroy Cohen’s operation. But things are easier said than done as many of Cohen’s employees are on the police payroll already and keeping the secret is half the work.

If you were interested by the trailer at all, don’t raise your expectations any higher but there’s no reason to lower them either despite what critics say. This movie falls into many cliches, has corny lines right where you expect them to be, and is style over substance by tenfold, but it is fun and that’s all it needs to be. The late forties look, the flash of the classic cars and all the 1911s a historic gun nut could handle. Many were evidently expecting a historic Crime/Drama something similar of a cross between J. Edgar and Public Enemies. And it’s not wrong to have expected more. But there’s no reason to dislike it based on it not being as deep as they could have gone.

The cast is fitting too. Penn as the human bulldog, donning prosthetics to enhance the image of a former boxer-turned gangster adds to the character immensely. Penn also has no problem screaming about control of the city because he’s been questioned about his intentions while the next scene has him casually ordering the death of an underling. A nice touch. Brolin too, is fitting for the role of soldier turned cop turned detective turned secret agent of sorts. He’s straight laced enough for you to believe him an officer, while dirty enough for you to buy that he would go undercover without succumbing to the temptation of mob life.

Scenes of the gang of undercover agents smashing in faces with the butts of their guns, breaking into clubs and burning all the money set in slow motion to classic swing is just fun to watch. It fulfills your simplistic side to dealing with crime, much like our superheroes do. “They’re the bad guys, beat’em up! Yeah, we win!” A kid’s story for adults. I don’t mean to make it sound stupid, the story is just blatantly simple; it’s weakness and it’s strength.

But the favorite for many will no doubt be Ryan Gosling. He seems to have hit his career stride these days, with mainstream success being achieved after a long line of Indie Dramas. His character, Jerry Wooters, which is fun to say, sticks out as the single non-tough guy doing tough guy things. The only ladies man in the group, the voice Gosling uses for Wooters is cartoonish, though it grows on you. Something that could be said about the film in its entirety.

All in all though, going for a simple, throwback to good guys vs bad guys will satisfy you. Don’t expect an award winner and go in with the mindset that entertainment alone is okay for a movie once and a while and you’ll make it out pleased.

Grade: C+


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