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Gangster Squad represents a missed opportunity. Director Ruben Fleischer and screenwriter Will Beall have discarded a great real-life story (uncovered by journalist Paul Lieberman in his book of the same name) and given us an overblown comic strip instead.

The film starts out on a good note, with Josh Brolin as a straight-arrow veteran of World War II who is hired by Los Angeles police chief William H. Parker (Nick Nolte) to bring down ruthlessly ambitious gangster Mickey Cohen (overplayed by Sean Penn). His mission is to gather a small, secretive team of specialists to do whatever it takes to put the mobster out of business—without the official sanction of the L.A.P.D. For Brolin this presents a considerable moral dilemma, having to break the law in order to serve a greater cause. Alas, the movie is more interested in being a pulpy, bloody gangster film than a three-dimensional true-crime saga.

It’s watchable because of the colorful recreation of L.A. in 1949 (thanks to cinematographer Dion Beebe and production designer Mather Ahmad) and its appealing cast, but it becomes unsatisfying as it grows more outlandish,  right up to its bullet-riddled climax. The film even asks us to believe that Brolin’s pal Ryan Gosling could have a fling with Cohen’s girlfriend (Emma Stone) without him knowing it.

Brolin’s square-jawed character is strictly two-dimensional, while his fellow undercover cops are ciphers, especially Anthony Mackie and Michael Pena, whose parts are sorely underwritten.  

I suppose this comes under the heading of mindless entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, except that in this case it squanders a really juicy true-life story. What a shame.

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I agree so much in this review-
It was such a disappointing overblown mess. I went out hating it. (While I loved Jack reacher!)

James Oakie

It's fair to call this movie an overblown comic book. That's what it struck me as. Still, I really liked it (or at least I liked it better than Jack Reacher, which I saw on the same night). Josh Brolin makes a very good leading man / action hero. He's much more believable in that kind of role than the many girlie men Hollywood seems to favor today.


They must be desperate, they even through in a line from Abbott & Costello…wasn't funny…


Too bad. This cast has some strong players, and L.A.'s sordid past is full of fascinating, stranger-than-fiction stories, including the facts behind this film. I'd love to see such tales brought to the screen with all their complexity. Looks like I'll have to keep waiting.

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