Gangster Squad

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Gangster Squad Movie Poster Image
Popular with kids
Very violent tale of LAPD's real-life war against the mob.
  • R
  • 2013
  • 113 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 14 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

There's often a stiff price to pay for doing what's right, especially when everyone else is willing to look the other way and ignore evil, to take the easy path, and let bad guys get away with whatever they want. John O'Mara and the rest of the gangster squad take great risks to fight the mob and don't get recognition for their accomplishments, but in the end their biggest reward is knowing they did the right thing and made the city a better place.

Positive Role Models & Representations

O'Mara takes no prisoners in his lopsided fight against the Los Angeles mob. He's outgunned and gets almost no support from his colleagues in the corrupt LAPD, but he refuses to back down, even when it means risking his life. It's worth examining whether his actions -- including completely ignoring any semblance of due process to wage war on the mob -- are justified by his worthy goals.


Near non-stop brutal, often-bloody violence as the gangster squad takes on the mob. Gunfights in city streets look more like small wartime battles, with dozens of men blasting away with machine guns, handguns, and even hand grenades. Some people are killed execution style, with gunshots to the head at close range, and others are tortured on screen (dragged apart by two vehicles, pounded with a mallet-like device, killed with a power drill), with bloody bodies/spatters shown. Several intense fist fights (with wince-inducing sound effects) leave participants battered and bloody. One near-rape.


A mostly unclothed couple is shown kissing and bantering in bed. Several references to prostitution, including a corrupt judge who likes to spend time with hookers. The gangsters are involved in running brothels.


Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "p---y," "c--k," "ass," "whore," "hell," "son of a bitch," "damn," "goddamn," and more.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several characters smoke cigarettes, as was common during the period. People also drink wine, champagne, and beer at nightclubs and parties and sometimes move on to harder liquor. A few of the hardened cops and mobsters pull from hip flasks, and men sometimes sit down with several stiff drinks after an intense experience or tragedy. The gangsters are involved in the drug trade.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Gangster Squad is based on the real-life exploits of crime boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who -- with his gangster pals -- brazenly runs brothels, casinos, drug dens, and betting operations under the protection of corrupt cops, judges, and politicians ... until a secret crew of cops bands together to take Cohen out. Expect nonstop brutal violence, including several huge gunfights that result in dozens dead or wounded, as well as intense fistfights (with wince-inducing sound effects) that leave participants beaten to a pulp, a harrowing near-rape, and several episodes of torture (a character is pulled apart by two vehicles, another is pounded with a mallet-like device, and one is killed with a power drill). Many scenes also feature people drinking and smoking cigarettes, and language includes various permutations of "f--k." The star-studded cast also features Josh BrolinRyan GoslingEmma Stone, and Nick Nolte as the police chief who makes it his mission to run the mob out of town.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bydarthsitkur April 29, 2013

Saints Row Meets James Bond

This is my favorite gangster movie, it's an all around great time, acting is great (especially from josh brolin), the story is cool, there's some humo... Continue reading
Adult Written byShivom Oza January 10, 2013

Gangster Squad (2013) Review by Shivom Oza – Enthralling Actioner!

3/5 Stars

Los Angeles, circa 1949, Brooklyn-born gang lord Mickey Cohen runs the show in Los Angeles. With the police and the politicians under his thumb, Cohe... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byXtreme Gamer July 18, 2014
Teen, 14 years old Written byJimmy Brew July 21, 2015

What's the story?

Los Angeles, 1949: The mob has gained a foothold, especially violent ex-boxer gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who's got the cops and judges completely in his pocket ... except for straight-arrow John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), who never got the memo and happily takes on any and all of Cohen's boys, even when other policemen whisper that everyone knows to leave Mickey's operations alone. With Cohen making plans to take over the entire West Coast gambling racket, O'Mara recruits a band of like-minded officers (played by Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, and Giovanni Ribisi) to form a secret GANGSTER SQUAD. Their mission: Take Cohen down, by any means necessary.

Is it any good?

A juicy, jazzy, good-versus-bad movie is a sight to behold, and Gangster Squad certainly fits the bill. It provides enough of the good stuff -- gorgeous clothes, swingy pacing, thrilling face-offs, and actors with pizzazz (hello, Ryan Gosling) -- to make it work. But as 1997's similarly themed L.A. CONFIDENTIAL proved, this kind of movie can also be complex, and that's what's missing in Gangster Squad, which is enjoyable but superficial. It looks noir, and it sometimes feels like noir, but there's no noir there.

What consumes Cohen? What drives him to rule and kill? (Surely there's more to it than bloodlust from a former boxing champ.) Why is O'Mara willing to set aside his noble lawfulness to go after Cohen? (Surely there's more to it than being a war veteran who wants the streets of L.A. to be safe for his newborn.) Ribisi's character, who joins O'Mara's vigilante team, hints at some of the deep conflicts that might have afflicted the likes of O'Mara, but the movie shies away from exploring it too much. It's a shame.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the gangster squad's methods. Do the ends justify the means? Is it OK for them to basically wage war against the mob on the city streets, instead of using legal means such as warrants and due process?

  • How does the violence in Gangster Squad compare to what you might see in a horror movie? Which has more impact? Why?

  • Gangster Squad is based on real-life events. What do you think about a town that's as brazenly corrupt as this version of Los Angeles in 1949?

Movie details

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