A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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 Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Nick Nolte as the police chief who makes it his mission to run the mob out of town.
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?
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