When I had seen previews for the 1949 period piece Gangster Squad, it didn’t initially look that engaging. I mean, Josh Brolin is good and Sean Penn looked like he really got into the part, but the trailers don’t really give you a good look at how this film really plays out.
The gist. Josh Brolin stars as a rebellious cop who doesn’t care that Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is the most dangerous man in LA and insists on doing his job and putting Cohen behind bars. This behavior gets the attention of his police chief (Nick Nolte) who asks Brolin to form a squad of deadly cops who can go under the radar and destroy Cohen’s plans. These other cops include smooth-talking Ryan Gosling, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie, and Michael Pena. Emma Stone is also around.
I had anticipated a slow period piece with a lot of classic detective work. I was wrong. This movie had some intense Tarantino-esque fight scenes, with blood splattering the walls and vicious hand-to-hand brawls. From start to finish, it was an action-filled thrill ride and I was incredibly surprised.
All the members of the so-called Gangster Squad are badasses in their own way and each one has plenty of incredible “OH MAN” moments. Slow motion bullet fights, boxing matches, and a man gets ripped in half in the first five minutes.
Brolin is solid and holds the film together. He has a wife and kid on the way and his emotional throughline gives the violence an extra dimension, debating if justice is worth risking your life and giving up your family. There’s some interesting complexity.
The other guys are good. There’s some funny moments, some poignant ones, and the ensemble cast really works together.
And then there’s Sean Penn. He is absolutely terrifying. It’s believable and yet scary that such a force of nature could exist. Incredible work.
What doesn’t work?
Not much doesn’t work. This movie has some great complexity and it was fun to watch but there is a certain depth that we don’t really get to here. There was some moments, but it lacked the counterpoint to the violence that films like Django Unchained managed to hit upon. Small complaint and not enough to hold back a 5-star rating. I had debated between 4 and 5 … and I couldn’t find enough reason to lower it a star.
A great action-packed thrillride. There’s blood, there’s sex, and there are some incredible moments that make these guys look like beasts. It was everything I wanted and needed in the form of a fun popcorn movie that was satisfying in every way. The moments of depth are intriguing and satisfying and gave the actors some great substance to work with. Well worth seeing on the big screen.