2013's Most Anticipated: Gangster Squad

18. Gangster Squad (R) - Runtime: 113 minutes
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writer: Will Beall

I'm not a huge fan of gangster films - but once in a while, they'll charm the pants off me. L.A. Confidential is a movie I thought deserved the Best Picture win over Titanic and Public Enemies I thought was completely underrated. So I wasn't surprised that Gangster Squad landed in my top 20 list. It has a lot going for it: 1) a great cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Peña; 2) a solid director - Ruben Fleischer - the man behind Zombieland; and 3) it's based off of Paul Lieberman's seminal book Gangster Squad. All of these elements are brought together for a vastly entertaining and fun movie.

This is the story about a rogue band of L.A. police officers who find themselves going to war against the biggest mob boss in L.A. - Mickey Cohen. The movie doesn't waste your time - you're sucked right into the action when Josh Brolin rescues a damsel in distress from a life of prostitution. After that brouhaha - he's assigned to assemble a team to work outside the law to take down Cohen and his thugs - using whatever means necessary. Gangster Squad moves along at a nice pace - there's plenty of action to break up the somewhat tedious story. Not that there's anything wrong with the story - but it's nice to know that the movie knows its own strengths. Which is the super violent and highly stylized action. There's an awesome car chase scene and an amazing last stand at the Park Plaza Hotel with Sean Penn duking it out with Josh Brolin that got pretty intense (surprising because A) Sean Penn is old and B) it's Sean Penn, c'mon!)

Even if you're not all that into action and cops and guns and cars - there's always the femme fatale story line in these movies and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have good chemistry together that they make an otherwise ho-hum b-story a nice breather from the action. The rest of the cast is fantastic as well - Sean Penn delivers a very over-the top, but still quite menacing performance as the West Coast's biggest mobster and Josh Brolin is the black and white do-gooder cop who seeks justice with the end of his barrel.

All of this is set against a beautiful and slick-looking 1940s-era Los Angeles. A lot of the movie utilizes CG effects, but it never became distracting or too cartoonish. I loved the sweeping cameras around the action and I never once lost track of who was who during the whole movie. As far as I'm concertned - Fleischer is 2 for 2 in the director's chair. He's got a nice visual flair and both of his movies are very savvy in how they employ camerawork with special effects.

This was a very fun and fast-paced action movie that deserves a lot more credit for what it does right than what it does wrong. I highly recommend this if you're pining for some action!

Rating: See it!

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