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Sean Penn
Ryan Gosling
Josh Brolin
Anthony Mackie
Michael Pena
Bryan Cranston.
Ruben Fleischer.
Will Beall.
Running Time
113 minutes

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3 Star Empire Rating
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Man With A Movie Camera
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Gangster Squad
The Untouchables with a tan

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Mickey Cohen (Penn) has LA by the balls. With the crime boss controlling police and judges, who can stop him? Answer: a team of fearless cops who go by the name of the Gangster Squad.

Gangster Squad
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Is The Untouchables untouchable? Gangster Squad director Ruben Fleischer has set out to prove not. His slick, all-star film takes the same dynamic as Brian De Palma’s Chicago classic — law-enforcers go off the books to battle a gangster on his own dirty terms — and transplants it to LA, aiming for something bigger, glitzier, nastier. But while it’s not lacking in visual razzle-dazzle or blood, story-wise it rarely manages to shock or excite.
Where it does succeed, though, is with its villain. In The Untouchables, De Niro’s paunchy Al Capone put a baseball bat to foul use, but Sean Penn’s Mickey Cohen has even more lurid enthusiasms: dining on roast peacock, quoting Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, world-class swearing (he arrives at a raided brothel snarling, “My whole crop of cunt is ruined." Penn, wearing a prosthetic beak, has the time of his life. Behold as Cohen, in full view of the Hollywood sign, commands dogs to feast on a slain man’s innards. That’s the LA way.

It’s a shame the good guys are less sharply drawn. Josh Brolin gets the Kevin Costner role as soldier-turned-cop John O’Mara, putting the team together. But Brolin is lumbered with patches of dreary exposition and a no-fun wife (Mireille Enos) who doesn’t want him in harm’s way — until, without much explanation, she spins on a dime and becomes Gangster Squad cheerleader. John has the right mix of Dick Tracy jaw and wholesome air, but Brolin seems hemmed in by the character’s white-knight righteousness.

More fun is to be had with his crew. Michael Peña forms a sparky double-act with Robert Patrick; the latter’s sharpshooter, a moustachioed holdover from the Wild West era, dubbing his Mexican sidekick ‘Hopalong’ and mercilessly ribbing his takedown skills. Giovanni Ribisi is a nebbish surveillance expert, and Anthony Mackie looks good in a hat.

But the big selling-point is Ryan Gosling, who gets many of the best moments as the amusingly named Jerry Wooters. The romantic subplot between Gosling and Emma Stone (a good-time girl who’s wound up on Cohen’s arm) may seem a little bit like Crazy Stupid Love in fancy dress, but the pair’s chemistry still scorches, with writer Will Beall giving them some choice repartee:

“Let me guess: you want to take me away from all this and make an honest woman of me?”
“No, ma’am. I was just hoping to take you to bed.”

Like that chat-up line, the film ain’t subtle: Nick Nolte rasps orders as a fire-breathing police chief; folk gulp down slugs of bourbon from ever-present hip flasks; glass seems to shatter every ten-and-a-half seconds. This is crime history retold as comic-book pulp. And Fleischer, who debuted with the astonishingly self-assured Zombieland, provides enough visual élan to — just about — make you forget how well-trod these dirty streets are. It’s no LA Confidential (which featured Mickey Cohen dancing the Lindy Hop), but does have the novelty of a greenscreen-assisted car chase that plays like a ’40s Fast Five.

Another of the movie’s big set-pieces, a wholly invented shoot-out at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, was shitcanned by Warner Bros. after the Aurora massacre and reshot as an equally ambitious showdown in Chinatown. Fortunately, it hasn’t hurt the movie: the new sequence expertly ramps up the suspense (and predictably features the sort of annoying firecracker-flinging kids who only appear in movies at very tense moments) and keeps its climactic, Tommy-gunning action clean and clear. This is proof that Fleischer’s nondescriptly directed Zombieland follow-up 30 Minutes Or Less was an unfortunate blip — if the director doesn’t get offered a big superhero movie off the back of this, we’ll be surprised.

Gangster Squad is perfectly decent entertainment: it possesses a frequently witty script, a roster of likable, cool-looking stars, fizzy choreography and Sean Penn out-hamming Mr. Pricklepants. Yet there’s the lingering feeling that this is a safe studio film as opposed to a story that was burning to be told. Every beat is hit with mechanical efficiency, rather than taking risks and roaring with ambition. Not something you’d say about a Brian De Palma film.

Sean Penn’s not been this fun since Jeff Spicoli and there’s plenty of rip-roaring action, but Gangster Squad proves a minor entry in the annals of LA noir.

Reviewed by Nick de Semlyen

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Gangster Squad
Empire Star Rating

RE: Well Made Movie !

ster Squad Fedoras on, lock n load those tommy guns. So you have the new 'Die Hard' film or this, what's it gonna be? the choice is obvious, take a hike 'McClane' you have been retired. Never mind all this PG-13 crapola, this film is where its at and it kicks ass I shit you not. Even cooler is the fact the whole thing is based loosely on real events! yeah there's the door 'McClane', use it. The plot is as basic as A B C, Mobster chief 'Mickey Cohen' (Sean Penn) rules LA with a sadistic g... More

Posted by Phubbs at 22:51, 14 February 2013 | Report This Post

Well Made Movie !

Ryan Gosling, is just good in this Movie also Emma Stone is very stylish, & camera just love her , ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by soulfood at 17:09, 13 February 2013 | Report This Post

Fab-U-lous Darling!

Warning: do not go to this movie expecting godfather styled storytelling or road to Pedition subtlety, you will only leave disappointed. What younwill get though is a fantastic over the top stylish piece of Friday night entertainment with wonderful performances and sizzling chemistry. Some of the action set pieces will blow you away. True, it bringsbnothing new to the mobster genre, but franks itnupnto a new level. Highly recommended. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Jack Ryan at 10:13, 26 January 2013 | Report This Post

Fab-u-lous darling!!

Perfect Friday night entertainment. Don't go to this movie expecting Inte ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Jack Ryan at 10:08, 26 January 2013 | Report This Post


In 1948, post-World War 2 Los Angeles, gangster Mickey Cohen has become the most powerful figure in the California criminal underworld, and intends to continue to expand his criminal enterprise to Chicago and New York. The police have not been able to stop Cohen's ruthless rise, as Cohen has eliminated witnesses and bribed both the court and the police, controlling both illegal and legal sides of L.A. Determined to put a stop to all this, LA Police Chief Bill Parker creates a secret police unit... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr Lenera at 16:11, 16 January 2013 | Report This Post

Okay, three stars (just) but nothing especially memorable or interesting here. Penn, Gosling and Patrick are well cast, but Brolin was hard to warm to and like. Not going to apear in any list of great gangster films and while entertaining enough for a couple of hours, I have almost forgotten it already.. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bretty at 15:26, 16 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Gang Bang Bang.......

Well...Im not sure what I think about this really. First off - it is quite a forgetable film with for me, no real stand out scenes. Secondly, I thought the script was a little dodgy "here comes saaaannndddaaaa cllaaauuusss" BUT it was entertaining in parts but actually felt like a poor mans untouchables as others have said. Probably just the 2 to 3 stars for me. Shame. ... More

Posted by ongbakdan at 13:03, 16 January 2013 | Report This Post

Gang Bang Bang.......

I probably agree with the Empire review all round here, after watching this Film yesterday, although it probably uses just about every cliche from most Gangster movies ever made, which I suppose was to be expected, its not a bad Film overall, and is indeed a very good storyline, which is based on actual events, I thought some of the acting was WAY over the top, and the Gunfights just went on forever( hence my title above ) I came out of the Cinema feeling quite entertained overall....... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by n13roy at 11:58, 16 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Typical January fare

Enjoyable enough fluff, but nothing of any real substance. ... More

Posted by Filmfan 2 at 18:43, 15 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Typical January fare

Who thought Gangster Squad would be a good name?!!. This is one ill wait to appear on Lovefilm/Netflix ... More

Posted by Dannybohy at 10:21, 14 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Typical January fare

Still don't know if I like the film or not? :/ As like I love the ensemble and the cast seem enthusiastic about the film (Evidence here) But still not sure if its just because I'm not a big fan of these kind of films, but I recommend if you liked The Johnny Depp film Public Enemies ... More

Posted by SarahBanks195 at 09:59, 14 January 2013 | Report This Post

Typical January fare

I can see why it was pushed back to the month of the film rosters where no-one expects much at all. Gangster Squad really is a piece of pulpy, superfluous gaff. There isn't a single moment when it doesn't feel utterly superficial and wholly unrelatable to anything representing real life. There was a point 45 mins when I was actually predicting every plot point that would follow and depressingly, everyone came true. Ugh. This is lazy screenwriting 101, its an outdated Untouchables wannabe that h... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by alsybroth at 11:00, 13 January 2013 | Report This Post

I approve.

Despite featuring some of the most clichéd dialogue I've ever heard, I had enormous fun. Engaging characters and sporadic bursts of gleeful violence compensate for the tropes nicely. Gangster Squad revels in its body-count. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheMightyBlackout at 22:33, 11 January 2013 | Report This Post

An all action, zero filler gangster romp. Scenes rarely last more than a couple of minutes and every line of dialogue is the bare minimum of what needs to be said, but as long as you're not going in expecting a Scorsese picture you should have plenty of fun. The 32% RT rating is harsh. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Whistler at 21:45, 11 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Gangster Squad

Quite disappointing considering the heavyweight cast and subject matter. Unfortunately, it's pretty much a straight rip off of 'The Untouchables' without an ounce of the style or fun. Every cliche is covered and all the characters are totally underwritten. In fact, the whole thing felt underwritten like the makers were just ticking all the boxes as they went without really taking the time to flesh things out. Penn has some fun chewing the scenery but the rest of the cast are badly served by... More

Posted by mackey at 20:47, 11 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: First review I actually agree with!

Just saw the movie. In a good mood Empire could easily have given 4 stars. The modern approach is great, you can really feel the director's touch throughout the movie. The characters are likeable, and Sean Penn is crazy. Well i liked this movie. Not a classic but very well-made entertainment! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dseys at 18:04, 09 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: First review I actually agree with!

I am yet to see the film, however, the critical response sincerely does not match the talent that is involved with this project, what has seemingly gone wrong? ... More

Posted by Owyn at 15:32, 07 January 2013 | Report This Post

First review I actually agree with!

Well almost... Maybe a bit biased but I literally can't stand ANY Sean Penn film. He ruins every film I see him in. That said the "ensemble" cast here is pretty guff too with one or two exceptions (Emma Stone in particular) so that is why I have removed one star! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by J_BUltimatum at 14:37, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post

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