Gangster Squad (2013)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 1/11/13
Cast: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña, Mireille Enos

A stylish and colorful gangster film that falls somewhere between "L.A. Confidential" and "Dick Tracy" (1990). Mickey Cohen (stunning Sean Penn) is an ambitious gangster who moves to Los Angeles with the intention of ruling the entire west coast. The police chief (grizzled Nick Nolte) is helpless against Cohen's influence, so he recruits a hot-headed cop named John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) to covertly smash Cohen's operation and run him out of town. O'Mara, in turn, pulls together a small team of misfits to get the job done, which puts into motion an increasingly dangerous game of destruction, violence, and retribution.

The film is a predictable and somewhat disappointing exercise in style over substance, but it never fails to entertain. The charismatic cast is the film's biggest strength, and Sean Penn's creepy portrayal of Cohen is so powerful that you can't keep your eyes off of him. You also can't keep your eyes off of Ryan Gosling, who is impossibly sexy and exploding with seductive charm. It hardly seems fair to bundle that much sexy into one man, and now I understand why he makes the ladies swoon. Josh Brolin is great as a tough and idealistic cop, and his entire team (Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña, and an unrecognizable Robert Patrick) is delightful. The film is gorgeous and the sets are bright, colorful, and full of flair. The action scenes are tense and exciting, and there's a lot more gunplay than I was expecting. Unfortunately, the film suffered a massive blow as the result of a movie theater shooting in Colorado during the summer of 2012. The most compelling scene in the film's trailer was a movie theater shooting, and in light of the Colorado tragedy, the filmmakers decided to remove that sequence and delay the film's release until January 2013. It's unfortunate that such a strong piece of film had to be sacrificed for the sake of social conscience. Would its inclusion have made the film noticeably better? Probably not, but it's certainly noteworthy as a superb set piece.