Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gangster Squad, a review

In the City of Angels, crime fits like a sleek suit and gangster Mickey Cohen is it's tailor. Returning from the war lands a leading detective John O'Mara in hot water as he most go beyond the call of justice to take down the most powerful man in Los Angeles.

I was once an intern at Lin Pictures, so I acknowledge my bias in writing this review.


From the very beginning, we are treated to a gorgeous panorama of neon, glimmer and gore. The cinematography looks like it was taken from a Michael Mann film and it echoes the sheen of the city perfectly. Each scene looks painstakenly detailed, showing off the cars, tommy guns and clubs of the day. Bathed in cigarette smoke and the reflections from scotch glasses, the film looks flat out gorgeous.

The shoot outs are well-choreographed, with a particularly standout sequence involving a hand being broken off, guys beaten to a pulp with a chair and a head being smashed through a window. With the exception of the finale, the fist fights are kinetic and high-energy. The car chase is quickly done, though the sequence is well-shot.

An issue arose for me in the cimax, as it feels lackluster. The fist fight is clearly edited but is oddly shot. Like we had switched from DVD to Blu-Ray in an instant. The technical aspect completely pulled me out of the moment.


I've read some reviews that critique the writing, comparing it to The Untouchables. I will happily concede the point but offer a clarification: the writing is intentionally playing things with a tongue in cheek mentality, clearly enjoying the pulpy nature of the genre. Seriously, the writing is tailor-made for a crowd-pleasing time.

The acting is strong, with Sean Penn predictably carrying his fair share of the villainous weight. His monologues, especially one that involves him relating a childhood story while a cop is murdered nearby is a stellar example of chilling menace. Josh Brolin is stoic and works wonders with a standard role. Ryan Gosling feels somewhat miscast to me, too soft-spoken and calm for the moments where he acts out. The rest of the supporting cast isn't given a whole lot to do, but the little moments are welcome. Most memorable is Robert Patrick as a John Wayne gunslinger.

From the beginning, the film moves at a fast clip. The pacing is solid and rarely drags. I didn't check the time once, a rare feat and a strong complement. Oh, and the end credits rock. See below.


The war-time relic of a military veteran is quite timely. It works wonders especially compared to our current situation. O'Mara plays this well, illustrating the need for help and reconciliation.

Studies in honorable sacrifice and justice, though quiet and often often too quick, are certainly at the heart of this tale. Dan Lin mentioned to the interns once that he wanted his company to focus strongly on heroes and their tales. That stuck with me, and this is well-played throughout the film.


Despite a potential miscast and an underused supporting cast, the film is well-acted, energetic and beautifully shot.

4.5 out of 5.



  1. Fine review Nick. Sean Penn gave a great performance as the baddie and he was the one thing that kept me in my seat. Not bad but not great either.