Gangster Squad (2013) / Action-Thriller

MPAA rated: R for strong violence and language
Length: 113 min.

Cast: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Mireille Enos, Robert Patrick, Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Nolte, Michael Pena, Anthony Mackie, Holt McCallany, Jon Polito
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Screenplay: Will Beall
Review published January 30, 2013

Gangster Squad Josh Brolin 2013Set in Los Angeles in 1949, Gangster Squad tells the mostly fictional tale loosely based on real-life events of how a bunch of LAPD detectives were put together to help combat the influx of burgeoning gangster influence from the east to the town undergoing rapid expansion. The new-kingpin-on-the-block is Mickey Cohen (Penn, Fair Game), a former boxer from Brooklyn who made a name for himself in Chicago and now has decided to lay claim on mostly uncharted territory out west to start his empire of crime. He's paid of judges and cops to look the other way, though he hasn't tainted Police Chief Bill Parker (Nolte, The Spiderwick Chronicles), who is struggling, seemingly alone, to try to take Cohen down.

With the help of an honest detective and WWII-vet named John O'Mara (Brolin, Men in Black 3), the LAPD puts together a secret squad working outside of the law to take Cohen and his men out of the picture. O'Mara and his wife Connie (Enos, "Big Love") set about recruiting a super-team of honest and straight-shooting cops, who want nothing but to make the city a better place for them and their kids to grow up. Att the same time, Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Gosling, The Ides of March) is getting ever so close to Cohen after he woos his lady friend, Grace Faraday (Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man), in a dangerous liaison that could leave them both dead.

Ruben Fleischer, who scored big with Zombieland only to fall into mediocrity with the near-abysmal 30 Minutes or Less, makes a modest return to form with Gangster Squad, a by-the-numbers but still modestly entertaining entry into the old crime action-drama genre. Bolstered by a nice cast and slick look, it's purely meant as a piece of entertainment, a sort of low-grade version of The Untouchables. The characterizations are cartoonish, but still quite fun, even if each character is an extreme representation of their real-life counterparts. Penn's Mickey Cohen, with his prosthetic nose and quick-temper, feels a bit like a villain ripped out of the Beatty version of Dick Tracy, but it's still engaging to watch an actor of Penn's caliber chew up scenery in a smoldering, over-the-top performance nonetheless.

Handsome costume and set designs are the highlight of this good looking crime opus, and while much of what we see is derivative of the genre from a story standpoint, Fleischer's fluid direction and the engaging ensemble of actors manage to keep the interest level throughout for the gangster-flick enthusiasts. Slow-motion gun fight ballets, car chases, knife fights, and straight-up fisticuffs are part and parcel of the genre, and Gangster Squad is intent not to skimp on anything. Lots of character actors flesh out there roles fine, though few are given enough screen time to see them as more than one or two facets that will come into play during the film's extended climax.

Still, its inherent routineness pretty much does it in for those who are familiar with the genre and are looking for a new take. If you see The Untouchables and L.A. Confidential, you'll not only see everything Gangster Squad has to offer, but you'll see it done far better. If you like the style of gangster dramas and don't care so much about freshness or substance, Gangster Squad delivers the goods for those setting the bar low. However, if you're looking for the next great crime movie, you're not likely to find it in this homage-filled shoot-em-up.

Qwipster's rating:  

©2013 Vince Leo