Based on the book by Paul Lieberman, the plot follows a group of cops in 1949 L.A. who are brought together by leader of the pack Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to take down the ruthless Micky Cohen (Sean Penn), an Eastern gangster hell bent on claiming the city for his own. Unashamedly violent but in a video game-esque way that leaves it sitting somewhere just off reality, the film’s glossy action can sometimes threaten to damage the believability or danger that the team of cops-turned-vigilantes find themselves in. Its unique and playful style makes otherwise pedestrian shootouts beautiful, but it never achieves any sort of realism. However, that’s part of the fun of the film; I don’t think it’s aiming for gritty realism but rather to envelope you in the fantasy, dream-promising land of 1940s Los Angeles.
The biggest pleasure cast-wise is Sean Penn, who is clearly having a ball playing ultra-gangster Micky Cohen. He’s cartoonish and ridiculous but provides many of the film’s most electrifying scenes, helping to give the occasionally clunky dialogue a gravitas it wouldn’t otherwise have. While the film strongly reminds you of better gangster tales of years past – The Untouchables and L.A. Confidential chief among them – Gangster Squad nonetheless survives on the strengths of its graceful action, enjoyable performances and elegant visuals. It’s undoubtedly silly and over-the-top but ultimately a good bit of fun