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Let's start the new year with a bang! The fun and exciting Gangster Squad is set in 1940-50s Los Angeles, a mid-century wild, wild west when criminals roamed free dolloping out ruthless violence while the local authority turned a blind eye. In this corrupt City of Angels, the notorious Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), the mob transplant from Chicago, successfully built an empire where he was the law and nobody dared stand against him except a handful of righteous cops.
Josh Brolin plays a seasoned police officer who’s had enough with the city’s violence, and first cop to take Cohen head-on. Seeking to reclaim his city, the veteran law enforcer pieces together a brilliant squad of like-minded cops to fight this war against the kingpin, each with a unique skill -- There’s a sharpshooter (Robert Patrick), a knife expert (Anthony Mackey), a driver (Michael Pena), at tech guy (Giovanni Ribisi) and a smooth talking charmer (Ryan Gosling). Flavor of the moment Emma Stone turns up as the love interest, torn between the mobster and the charmer.
Even though this movie may sound very similar to The Untouchables and a bunch of other Hollywood gangster flicks with a group of vigilantes fighting against the baddies, Gangster Squad provides its own unique kick as it transports the audience back to 1950s LA. The intricate production details of the city, the cars, the hats and the suits, the cigarettes in characters’ hands, it all transports you convincingly on journey to the past. For me personally, it was a cool moviegoing experience to see what kind of lifestyle my parents and grandparents lived through before my time.
The film is well-cast, with familiar actors used effectively as shorthand insight into their characters, but Penn and Stone are the highlights. Penn oozes anger and fury, and the lovely Stone summons the proper intrigue as a woman of mystery.
I loved Gangster Squad! It's fast and exciting and transporting -- a good movie treat, too, if you bring your parents or grandparents who grew up in the days of the movie’s events. (***) – Joko Halim