Gangster Squad (2013)

The most violent game of Cops and Robbers I’ve ever seen played.

Sean Penn plays mob king Mickey Cohen, a ruthless gangster who runs the entire city of Los Angeles, including the cops and politicians under his control. Determined to bring him down is a small, secret task-force spearheaded by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling).

After the Aurora shootings occurred over last Summer, I was pretty bummed to see that this flick would be pushed-back, due to the fact that it actually featured a movie theater shooting itself. It looked like a nice mixture between L.A. Confidential and The Untouchables, with just a dash of present-day, digital-era filmmaking, and to top that, it boosted a pretty solid cast. However, it doesn’t matter when I saw this flick, all that matters is that I did see it and it’s nothing special. Yep, now I’m sort of glad it waited til now.

It’s pretty strange to see that director Ruben Fleischer would actually take this material, considering it’s not really something he has done in the past. This is the same guy who brought us Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less, which are both movies that feature a crap-ton of action and humor, but yet, never made me feel like I was watching the work of a guy that could be the next De Palma or Lumet. I was right. It’s not that Fleischer doesn’t hold his own when it comes to the action, because he definitely does and make it as bloody as can be, it’s more or less that there’s nothing else more to it. It’s pretty cool to see a bunch of crooks get their asses beat to a bloody pulp and watch all of the new, sadistic ways it can happen, but after awhile, it just seems like that is all this flick has going for itself.

Meet me in the paaaaark, it's going down.
Meet me in the paaaaark, it’s going down.

Hell, even at one-point during the movie, somebody actually begs the question, “why?. Why is this violence happening?” Well, the answer to that is simple: Hollywood and making money, baby! I never expected this flick to ever bring-up a point that I was thinking the whole time, and that’s that these police officers are doing just as much dirty work as these crooks are doing, but yet, are being applauded and praised for it, all because they have a gun and a badge. It definitely brings up a great question as to why should they be allowed and who’s right and who’s wrong. However, those points are a little too smart for a movie like this where people get their heads drilled in and eaten by dogs. Both of which, actually happen, and all due to the excitement and glee of it’s audience.

But, that excitement and glee, isn’t all that bad when it’s done right. Yeah, Fleischer really does drop the ball on providing more of a moral important/emphasis on all of the violence and ass-kicking, but for the most part, he keeps things alive and well with just enough action to have us cured for whenever this story feels the need to take a nap, here and there. You get the blood, you get the guns, you get the punches, and you get the explosions. What else could ya ask for? And if there is something else could you ask for, why the hell would you? Seriously, it’s the dead of Winter and if this is the best we are going to get, then hey, I’ll get a piece of popcorn, soda, my nice jammies, sit-down, relax, and freakin’ revel in it. You can’t ask for much else, so you might as well just enjoy it.

If there was a big disappointment with this movie, it’s the fact that the cast is so stacked and so filled to the brim with A-listers that are usually hitters, more than missers, that it’s really disappointing to see them work with a lame-o script like this. Josh Brolin is the leader of the Gangster Squad, and of the movie, if you think about it, and does a serviceable job as a pretty tough-guy that can do his work, wants to do what is right, but yet, go back home to his lovely wife and be the husband that she wants. Brolin is always a likable presence to watch on-screen and even though I felt like this character could have had more done to him to make us feel like we really know him from the inside and out, it’s still a lot more development than anybody else in this damn movie.

Well, him and Ryan Gosling, of course. Gosling is great as the sly, but charming cop that doesn’t even originally plan to be apart of this gang, but actually does and thank the high heavens for that, because the guy not only makes the gang better, but the movie in-return. Gosling just has this look to him that not only makes him the coolest guy in the room, but also the nicest guy, too, and you feel as if no matter what crazy shite gets thrown his way, he will still always end-up doing the right thing. The little “romance” he has with Emma Stone feels like it could have really sparked, like it did so well in Crazy, Stupid, Love, but just doesn’t. Instead, most of their scenes are them just having melodramatic-argument-after-melodramatic-argument, almost to the point of where it doesn’t matter as to whether or not they stay together, because it won’t be for long.

I'd take that drink.
I’d take that drink.

The reason they do argue so much, is because Stone’s character is with Mickey Cohen, played by Sean Penn in his most entertaining-role in the longest-time. When this movie was originally supposed to come out, I thought that it would give Penn a nice Oscar-push for Supporting Actor since he was playing a person so evil, so malicious, and so bad, that he could have easily gotten a nomination. However, since his flick doesn’t even come close to qualifying and now that I’ve seen it, I can say that he doesn’t even come close, but that’s still not a bad thing. This isn’t as much of an Oscar-caliber performance, as much as it is just a fun performance that seemed like Penn wanted to do for the longest-time, just so he could get away from the heavier stuff in his career. Is it perfect? No, not really, because the guy is still over-the-top and cartoonish, but at least he is always entertaining to watch and that was more than I could really say about him, when he was impersonating another famous figure; Robert Smith. Yeah, I guess people want to forget about that movie now.

The rest of the cast has a bunch of big names that have all been amazing in the past, and hell, maybe even the past year, but yet, aren’t given all that much to do. Nick Nolte is absolutely wasted as the head of the L.A. police department and shows up for about 10 minutes, tells Brolin what to do, and sounds like he’s still looking for that lung after all of these years. He’s alright, but damn, is it a weak role for an actor that always gives 110%, with everything he’s given. The rest of the Gangster Squad features the likes of Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi, and Robert Patrick, all of which do their best with what they can but in the end, sort of feel like they should have been given a lot more to do. Especially Mackie, of all people, who really feels like he should have been a big star by now, he just hasn’t found the right juices to get it flowing.

Consensus: Though it is nothing more than a movie about bad guys and good guys facing-off, against one another, Gangster Squad is still a bunch of fun that has a retro-vibe and feel, even if it feels like it should be more with the load of talent it has in-front of and behind the camera.




  1. This is one of the most disappointing ratings I’ve seen. Your review was quality, as always, but I was hoping it was going to get a much higher rating… at least as high as Killing Them Softly.

  2. Like you, I was also expecting a combo between LA Confidential and The Untouchables. But this is really just an action flick masquerading as film noir. Just because you add narration with trite remarks and set it in the 1940s, does not make it noir. Agreed that Sean Penn is very cartoonish and that the chemistry between Gosling and Stone is lackluster. This film can be over-the-top and completely unbelievable, although taking that in stride, I had a lot of fun. The shootouts and explosions are enjoyable, plus there’s an amusing camaraderie between the guys in the Gangster Squad. Not bad for my first new movie screening in 2013, but not great either.

    • Yeah, it could have been a lot worse but that doesn’t mean it’s very good either. It’s just alright for a January release and an alright way to start the year.

  3. Lots of good thoughts here. Yeah, this not a biggie, but I had fun with it. Lots to look at. Great art direction. I enjoyed Gosling modeling his character after Steve McQueen and a young Mickey Rourke and still coming out with his own cool.

  4. Thanks for checking out my site – I have subscribed to your site so i don’t miss a post and you’re on my blogroll too!
    I’m in two minds whether or not to see Gangster Squad, mainly because Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are two of favourites but have a little feeling they will ruin that!

    Like you say, it could be rental.!

  5. Two words: spot on. A completely wasted opportunity. Interesting that you thought Gosling added to the film. I just lumped him in with Emma Stone, as both just failed to impress me all that much. Gosling’s remaining movies in 2013 can only defecate on this from a great height… surely?

  6. […] “Though it is nothing more than a movie about bad guys and good guys facing-off, against one another, Gangster Squad is still a bunch of fun that has a retro-vibe and feel, even if it feels like it should be more with the load of talent it has in-front of and behind the camera.” – Dan The Man’s Movie Reviews […]

  7. Dan, I’ve only just read your review after you commented on mine and our thoughts are nearly word-for-word the same! It’s like I was channeling you when I wrote mine earlier today, haha.

    I completely agree with everything you said, even the rating, which is what I would give it if I still gave number ratings on my site.
    It’s pretty spooky to see us bring up the same points. Great review buddy.

  8. well at least the clothes look cool 😦 really bummed out that this did not meet your expectations or the expectations of anyones review that I have read.

  9. Just posted my review on this. Boy was I disappointed . This was unintentionally hilarious in parts.My favorite is when Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) looks up from a newspaper with a huge headline in bold type calling for the police chiefs resignation and then loudly announcing “They’re calling for my resignation!“ You don’t say?!

  10. Pretty much agreed with your review. I didn’t expect much, yet I still walked out feeling like this movie just missed a beat somewhere along the line. Wouldn’t say that I was disappointed, but I was at least expecting it to be more fun than it was. Eh…

  11. Well written review again Dan. I just couldn’t get excited about Gangster Squad as I feel that there are so many better films out there in the same genre. It offered nothing fresh or compelling. It felt like I was watching a bad impression of a better film. Disappointed. Keep up the cracking reviews, cheers, P.

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