A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
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
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "p---y," "c--k," "ass," "whore," "hell," "son of a bitch," "damn," "goddamn," and more.
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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.
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.