Review: Gangster Squad

gangster_squad_ver2Gangster Squad

  • Starring:   Josh Brolin (True Grit), Sean Penn (Carlito’s Way), Ryan Gosling (Drive) and more.
  • Directed by: Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland)
  • Synopsis: “Los Angeles, 1949. Ruthless, Brooklyn-born mob king Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) runs the show in this town, reaping the ill-gotten gains from the drugs, the guns, the prostitutes and—if he has his way—every wire bet placed west of Chicago. And he does it all with the protection of not only his own paid goons, but also the police and the politicians who are under his control. It’s enough to intimidate even the bravest, street-hardened cop…except, perhaps, for the small, secret crew of LAPD outsiders led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who come together to try to tear Cohen’s world apart.” –Official site
  • Rated: Rated R for language, sensuality and strong violence.
  • Must-Watch Trailer:
  • Review:

Months back, Gangster Squad looked to claim the title as “The BEST Gangster Movie of the Post-Apocalypse” when it was rescheduled for a January theatrical release. Well, that title is about as real as the Mayan-predicted apocalypse itself. While entertaining, its strength lies in its idea (or at least the attraction of it) but its weakness lies in its familiarity.  051012-gangster-squad

Familiarity, you say?

Yes. While you may not have seen this particular set of cops and gangsters you have seen this movie before. The story here is full of familiar characters, accents, plotlines, …and that may be very acceptable to some viewers hoping to revisit their love for the classically accepted aspects of the genre as opposed to the films that attempt to reinvent the wheel. It leaves, however, a void that must then be filled by a combination of outstanding performances, amazing special effects, exceptional drama and action, and a powerful soundtrack to boot. Gangster Squad needed an explosive mixture of these things, yet, unfortunately it only manages to be mediocre in all said categories.Gangster-Squad1


An interesting mix of characters. Your typical caricatures characterized by their simple identifiers in the film similar to the way in which last January’s Red Tails did (a criticism that film also received). Nothing really makes any of them to be truly cared for despite the films few futile attempts at doing so.

  • Sean Penn plays Mickey Cohen superbly. As a ruthless villain that lies somewhere between the Joker of The Dark Knight and Silva of Skyfall he is easy to despise and hate (even with or perhaps especially because of) his distracting Dick Tracy-ish nose. It does take some time to adjust to his nose prosthesis along with his fake Chicagoan accent.
Eat your heart out, Scarface!
Eat your heart out, Scarface!
  • Ryan Gosling plays the Ocean’s Eleven‘s Brad Pitt to Josh Brolin’s George Clooney-type: the strong-willed anti-hero Romeo, a soft heart inside a hardened shell.
  • Josh Brolin plays the leader of the Gangster Squad, the stubborn and hardened vet fed up with corruption and constantly looking for validation in the workplace even though it stares him in the face through the eyes of his expecting wife. A man whose weakness perhaps lies in his misplaced sense of loyalty.
  • Emma Stone plays the damsel in distress, the dame attracted to power…or the protection of it who falls for the “wrong” guy. (cue Julia Roberts in Ocean’s Eleven). She stuns in her nice array of gorgeous and lavish dresses that sell the look and feel of the time period.


Everyone of the cast members fall into place in their expected roles. Even the additional members of the cast meet the “requirements” for expected and identifiable roles. There’s the gunhand, the brains, the rookie, the guy with the special ability, the annoying (and perhaps too nosy) kid that has to know what’s going on, the bad guy with the identifiable facial disfigurement that says nearly nothing yet commits acts that are despised and eggs on the heroes, the upset expectant wife who oddly supports the endeavor of the squad if only to have her husband safe finally and all to herself, the toughened police chief in the background (played well enough by Nick Nolte)…they all fall right into place via the lack of imagination of the writers.GANGSTER SQUAD

Been there. Seen it.

That being said, there needed to be a much bigger draw to the storyline itself and the action involved. Gangster Squad is not horrible in this, however, it remains more forgettable than fantastic. While Gangster Squad pays tribute to these and other such films of the popular gangster movie genre it is definitely no replacement for The Untouchables, Scarface or Goodfellas, etc.


Special Effects/Exceptional Drama and Action

Lacking some pizzazz undoubtedly due to the sensitive cutting of the theater-shooting scene (after the unfortunate events in Aurora, CO at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises), the film builds up to a few climaxes throughout, but they are far from unexpected. The storyline’s blend of the main plot mixed with sub-stories of families, self-confirmation, etc…they just don’t blend so well in the film. Good gangster films present perhaps one or two little character stories and focus solely on the good guys vs the bad guys. Gangster Squad tries to do too much and Sean Penn’s appearances as the villain end up being more like cameos in the first entire half of the film. Not good. GANGSTER SQUAD

Powerful Soundtrack

Can’t say it is powerful. Sure, it brings some excitement as the psuedo-climaxes arrive and then as the final fight takes place, but it adds almost nothing to this story that promised to be much more than it actually is.gangster-squad

A neatly assembled cast for a cool idea that should have been told far better than it was. Perhaps it is because the director has only directed two feature releases prior to this (both comedies), perhaps it is due to the re-editing of the film, perhaps it is because of the expectations laid out for it, perhaps it is all or none of those reasons. Either way, Gangster Squad fell short. (As shared with you in my post HERE, keep your expectations lowered and you will enjoy it more.)GANGSTER SQUAD

Score:  2.5 out of 5 stars for Gangster Squad


Thanks for reading! Happy Watching!

T, The Focused Filmographer


  1. […] “A neatly assembled cast for a cool idea that should have been told far better than it was. Perhaps it is because the director has only directed two feature releases prior to this (both comedies), perhaps it is due to the re-editing of the film, perhaps it is because of the expectations laid out for it, perhaps it is all or none of those reasons.” – The Focused Filmographer […]


  2. Think I enjoyed this one a bit more than you. Sure it’s not going to win best film of the year. Despite it’s “based on true story” tag line, it feels so very far removed from a reality. But it entertained me. I had fun watching. Didn’t get bored. Maybe a just above average-ish film for me.


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