Film Review: Gangster Squad


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.


Before I start let me just say, yes, I know this isn’t a film that our readers would normally expect us to cover. However, the studio was nice enough to invite us to a press screening so we wanted to give our review.

I have to admit, I broke my own rule before watching a film for the first time. I made up my mind about if I was going to enjoy it or not. While the trailers always kept me interest there were a few things that we also making me hesitate. One being some of the stylized camera techniques being used is some of the shots. Those shots seemed to be peppered liberally throughout the trailers and I began to wonder if the entire film was going to be that way.  Needless to say my expectations began to drop and I decided I probably wasn’t going to enjoy the film as much as I originally thought.

I have to admit, I was completely wrong! GANGSTER SQUAD is a brutal, earnest, and ultimately fun movie going experience for those who enjoy the early 20th century gangster films. Early reviews have not been kind and I consider that to be truly unfortunate. Never have I gone into a film expecting to not like it and come out with a completely different reaction. Obviously I cannot speak to what other reviewers’ expectations were going into this film but clearly we don’t agree.

The performances of all the lead actors are solid. Nothing is earth shattering but I think they all did a fine job. Mireille Enos did an absolutely superb job in her role as Connie O’Mara wife to John O’Mara played by Josh Brolin. Gosling, Brolin, Penn, and Stone all perform admirably in their roles as well.

One thing I did not expect to see from this film was the amount of humor it contained. I don’t think I have ever laughed as much watching a gangster style film. Maybe that’s one reason some reviewers were turned off to the film, but I found it genuinely refreshing. It’s quite a contrast between the humor and downright brutal violence in some of the scenes but ultimately I thought it flowed well.

Given the negative reviews this will not be a film that is mentioned with the great gangster films of our time. Of course this isn’t in the same league as a movie like THE UNTOUCHABLES or GOODFELLAS but I must ask the question; was anyone really expecting it to be? I never got the impression this was a film even attempting to dethrone any of the classic gangster films. I just thought it was a gangster film with a really good cast, trying to make an enjoyable movie going experience. In my opinion, that’s exactly what they accomplished.

I think it’s definitely worth checking out in the theaters but if the other reviews make you hesitant then at the very least check it out upon its home release. I’m fairly confident if you go in expecting to have a good time, you will.


-Josh Costella

  • Dude

    Is that 3.5 or 4.5?

    • Josh Costella


  • jon

    One trend in current Hollywood, critics and those involved in film making, is that every movie needs to be new and shocking and stunning. I think this ideal lends to critics downvoting perfectly solid movies, simply because the new movie isn’t as good as a classic. There’s a reason that few movies earn classic status.
    When I go watch a movie, it’s an escape…it’s fun. I like the way you described this movie, with that notion in mind. I’ll certainly be checking it out! Thanks Josh!

  • Stock

    I’m glad you at MMM are expanding your base of movie reviews outside the realm of comic book films, although I often wonder (not about you, personally) if invited press screenings aren’t tantamount to lobbying for positive reviews. And this film seems enough like a comic book movie to count.

    My problem with this particular film is that right after Newtown, and I mean the day after, the TV and Hollywood people had no issues with promoting psychotic violence and behavior in short little burst in this movie…like a machine gun wielding Penn, or a suspect murdering Gosling (NO MERCY!) for our supposed gun-toting violent society to soak up and spit back out. So, as a gun-toter, I don’t intend to see it. Protest vote. Same with Django-“I like the way you die, Boy.”

    I know, not the subject for which you wrote the review. But you guys were thoughtful enough to express your feelings about the Newtown Massacre, and I am sorry, but our current culture downgrades human life so much that its becoming a daily expectation (Bullet to the Head), that I can no longer separate Hollywood’s wanton disregard from these random psychotic acts. Used to say you can’t judge a film from its trailer. Maybe its about time we did. And told them to F-off! I mean, little kids can see this sh.. by accident. Every day! They said I’d grow up crazy watching Three Stooges and Looney Tunes. They were right. But not anything like this. So they censored Looney Tunes.

    I’m not for censorship–just self-censorship. And these scumbags don’t have any. These ads don’t need to be like this. You ask me how I feel. This is how I feel.

    • Josh Costella

      Hi Stock,

      I wanted to address your comment about press screenings vs positive reviews. We are invited to screenings from every studio. We obviously cannot attend all of then so we try to attend the screenings for the films that we think our target audience may be interested in.

      If you read some of the other reviews I have written you will see that some of my reviews have not been so kind. Personally, I will never write a positive review of a film to gain favor with any studio. That’s simply not how we operate here at MMM. Obviously we express our feelings about the things we really enjoy and sometimes the things we don’t. Overall we are a fairly positive and more importantly, objective site. We strive for that and we have seen our approach pay off day in and day out.

      Ultimately, if I do not enjoy a film, I will say so. Even though I didn’t agree with the majority of the negative reviews about Gangster Squad, I still acknowledged them in my review. Someone less objective or swayed by studio influence would not have done that.

      In terms of the release of the film relative to the school shooting, I can understand your point. However, this film was already delayed and changed due to another shooting in 2012. The argument about how Hollywood portrays violence has been going on for years. Unfortunately, I do not see that changing any time soon. Your best way to protest against the violence in films is to not give those movies any of your business.

      However, there is plenty of the same violence, murder, and terrorism in comic book films as well. Avengers was an enormous hit in the US and all over the world and there was enormous amounts of violence in that. Does it make it any less wrong wheb a superhero kills an alien life form instead of a human being?

      Our society definitely has a comfort level when it comes to watching violence on TV and in movies. But our society also loves watching good triumph over evil and often movies provide an escape for all of us to see that happen. I think it’s good that we have the opportunity to see those victories especially when they are harder to come by in real life.