Gangster Squad

Jan 11, 2013

You've seen it all before, but this genre remains fresh with actors like these.

Gangster Squad
Grade: B
Director: Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland)
Screenplay: Will Beall from the Paul Lieberman novel
Cast: Sean Penn (Milk), Ryan Gosling (Drive)
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 min
by John DeSando

I don’t know if you miss the Magnificent Seven and Untouchables as much as I do, but both of them are parodied and imitated in Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad.  It’s a rousing gangster movie about the removal of kingpin Mickey Cohen from dominating the crime world in 1949 Los Angeles.

Yes, it’s the movie rescheduled from September because of the retooling necessity for a theater massacre too much like the Colorado tragedy.

Inspired by real events, Gangster Squad echoes The Magnificent Seven with an extended sequence of Sergeant John O’Mara(Josh Brolin), an honest LAPD cop who is a WWII vet,  recruiting four other incorruptible officers and a shootout straight from the famous stairs sequence involving AL Capone’s accountant from the Kevin Costner Untouchables. In addition to the delight of seeing excellent actors enjoying their roles, the sense of humor, even when machine guns are blazing, echoes the post-modern ironic revision of the serious film noirs in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s and memorable younger films like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential.

No matter how accurate the account is, the story and characters are straight out of ‘40’s gangster types in a good vs. bad formula that’s not stale in this thriller. Although its heroics and humor are mostly over the top, its actors (Sean Penn as Cohen and Ryan Gosling as Sgt. Jerry Wooters stand out with Brolin) are spot on with the requisite bravado and sarcasm married to very bleeding hearts, for Los Angeles that is. Let’s not forget the durable Nick Nolte as the honest police chief; his voice gets more gravely with each film—all the better for seasoned, tough characters.

As gun moll and girlfriend of Mickey and Jerry, Emma Stone’s Grace is the femme fatale.  Typical of the genre, she’s trouble no matter how sweet she is. In her slinky dresses and shiny makeup, she’s a male fantasy of naughty.  Just like the film itself. 

Throw in the period details like vintage cars and art deco buildings, and you’ll be in nostalgia paradise, LA style. It’s an enjoyable movie like many others you’ve seen before, but rarely with such nimble actors.

John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at
He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel.
Contact him at