Los Angeles, 1949. Gangster MIckey Cohen (Sean Penn) is looking to rise through the rabble and take over business after business, and eventually, the city itself. The only thing standing in his way is Police Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), and a ragtag pack of detectives acting off the book, burning Cohen's empire to the ground, piece by piece. Things get a little complicated when O'Mara's heavy drinking colleague, Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), not only gets hungry for revenge, but also finds himself smitten for Cohen's sassy young 'etiquette coach', Grace Faraday (Emma Stone). It's an undercover war of vice and virtue, not only on the streets, but also in the minds of the cops themselves.
Inspired by a true story, Gangster Squad is an action flick at heart, but incorporating elements of a classic Western. The film is held together by brilliant pacing, slick cinematography, and strong performances by Brolin and Stone. Penn delivers a chillingly brutal portrayal that brought back memories of Al Pacino's Tony Montana. The drama is often broken up just at the right moment by spots of comedy, often provided by Cowboy veteran Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), leaving a sense of satisfaction at the end of even the grisliest of gunfights.
The film isn't without its flaws, though. This reviewer wasn't overly swayed by Gosling's performance, and was left longing for a more powerful musical score. There is also the odd cliche to leave one rolling one's eyes. A word of warning: this is not one for the kiddies, as there was enough blood and bits to turn this reviewer's stomach. Mind you, if that's your thing, add this film to your list.
What I found most refreshing was that, due to the time period, there was no scientific hocus pocus and over-abundant CGI to get in the way of telling a good and gritty story. Highly recommended for action fans who want a little more bang in terms of performance and plot.