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June 2, 2013
Gangster Squad Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
10/1/201315/5/2013Village RoadshowRuben Fleischer
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1MA15+Ryan Gosling

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Sean Penn is great as Mickey Cohen.

Gangster Squad is a pretty exciting prospect primarily due to the fantastic cast which includes Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Michael Pena, Nick Nolte, Robert Patrick, and Giovanni Ribisi. Few films get such a phenomenal cast, but the film’s release was thrown into turmoil due to a shootout scene in a cinema which was deemed too confronting following the horrific real-life cinema shooting in Aurora. So what's Gangster Squad about? Well...

Set in Los Angeles in 1949 the film focuses on ruthless, Brooklyn-born mob king Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) runs the show in this town, reaping the ill-gotten gains from the drugs, the guns, the prostitutes and-if he has his way-every wire bet placed west of Chicago. He does it all with the protection of not only his own paid goons, but also the police and the politicians who are under his control. It s enough to intimidate even the bravest, street-hardened cop... except, perhaps, for the small, secret crew of LAPD outsiders led by Sgt. John O Mara (Josh Brolin) and Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who come together to try to tear Cohens world apart.

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Michael Pena and Robert Patrick.
As we mentioned earlier Gangster Squad had a bit of a troubled release, but that's not fault of the film studio but rather, as seen in the initial trailer, the film had a scene of mobsters firing machine guns into a crowd in Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Following the shooting in a theatre at Aurora, Colorado during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises that scene was removed from the film and a new one shot. This also pushed the release back from September 2012, to January 2013, but the replacement scenes which sees the shootout now take place in the streets of Chinatown is well done, and you would never have know. Still the delay certainly impacted the marketing machine for the film, and probably the final box office as a result.

There's no denying that the production values on Gangster Squad are superb with some gorgeous recreations of locations from the era, and costumes that suit perfectly. It's a shame then that, despite the stellar cast, the script and direction of the film just feels lacking. You never really connect with the characters as you do in films such as The Untouchables or Goodfellas and when certain events take place, at times, you'll be left asking what just happened and why.

Also hurting the film is the CG work which varies from impressive to is pretty terrible. There is a car chase that, while entertaining, looks like it's out of a video game rather than a feature film with cameras panning around but murky CG evident all around. Sometimes, despite being less "pretty", filming things practically just adds to the realism especially in films set decade ago and inspired by real events.

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The gorgeous Emma Stone makes an entrance!
Finally, I need to talk about the action in the film. As you know I'm very much an action fan. I love seeing Arnie mowing down waves of bad guys, but this film almost felt too action packed and indeed the writer, Will Beall (who based it on Paul Lieberman's book), has glorified the events for the sake of big-screen action. (Minor spoiler here) In real life the films main protagonist, Mickey Cohen, never actually kills anyone, but he does here and in real life he is jailed for Income Tax Evasion (perhaps that would make the storyline too similar to The Untouchables?). Why have a film "inspired by real events" if you don't even try to remain faithful to the original circumstances. I mean I'm not going to make a film about Ali and make him a racecar driver on his weekends off boxing!

Don't get me wrong, I've bagged this film quite a bit, but it's not unwatchable. There are certainly some entertaining moments, but it never really reaches the lofty heights of so many other gangster films which disappoints.

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Ryan Gosling in Gangster Squad.
The Blu-Ray disc for Gangster Squad sees the film presented in it's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio and encoded using the AVC MPEG-4 codec and it's quite a nice presentation. Darker scenes, of which there are plenty throughout this film, are handled well with plenty of fine detail, and the transfer handles the 1950's visual style (that being often warm earthy tones but with some bold colours as well) perfectly. When these colours come through it looks fantastic, just have a look inside the club around the 13 minute mark when Emma Stone's character is introduced with the deep red dress and lipstick which contrasts the prominent green colouring in the clubs interiors.

Gangster Squad contains a super DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which really brings the movie to life with plenty of surround sound channel use, and some bass to get the sub-woofer pumping as well. Dialogue is clear while the music is perfectly suited to the 1950s era and really sounds fantastic.

The only other audio track is an Audio Description which will get the job done if required and has been given a decent Dolby Digital 5.1 encoding at 640kbps. There is only a single subtitle track which is English Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired which is accurate to the on-screen dialogue.

The Blu-Ray disc boots up with a few trailers for Movie 43 (2:28), Side Effects (1:56) and The Last Stand (2:03) and includes the following extras as well...

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Nick Nolte as Chief Parker in Gangster Squad.
The Gangster Files (HD): This is a PIP (Picture-In-Picture) track which allows you to learn more information via videos (which are available separately too in Focus Points featurette), photos and text, about the production in the film, and real-life events which inspired it. It's quite interesting and worth checking out on a second or third run through of the film.

Focus Points: The Set-Up (46:28/HD): Split up into 15 parts, and viewable through The Gangster Files if desired, this is quite a decent look at various aspects of the production, the actors, locations and much more.

Then and Now Locations (8:03/HD): This is an interesting piece which shows period photos of key locations in the film and then current day location photos where available. For buildings no longer present they show what was created for the film.

Commentary with Director Ruben Fleischer: While the director gives information about the production of the film, the actors, and ties it back to real-life events it's certainly not an "entertaining" track with a rather dry, monotonous tone throughout. Some interesting information but it's a chore to get through it.

Rogues Gallery: Mickey Cohen (46:44): More interesting than the feature film itself is this documentary which details the actual events of Mickey Cohen's life including original interviews with the gangster, original photos and video, and modern historians providing additional details. While the film strayed from the actual events, this documentary shows that a film based on the actual events could have been equally as riveting (albeit less action packed). Essential viewing.

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Gangster Squad recreates the 1950s!
Tough Guys With Style (4:54/HD): Probably the most EPK piece in this collection of extras which sees the actors talking about characters, the time period and the brutality from law enforcement. There's little here to get excited about.

Deleted Scenes (12:20/HD): Here's a collection of seven deleted scenes including "Cohen Meets Russo" (1:53), "Del Red Chase" (1:01), "Chavez Ravine" (2:10), "Griffith Observatory" (1:28), "Wooters Drives Grace to Whalen's" (0:35), "Posades: Cohen Threatens Squad" (3:21), and "Chief Parker Gives Permission/Evidence Room" (1:31). There's nothing much here that would have enhanced the film too much.

Gangster Squad is a pretty ordinary gangster film, in fact I would go so far as to say it disappoints given the cast and director behind it. Still, it's not unwatchable and there's a great transfer and extras on the Blu-Ray which makes it worth a look.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Village Roadshow. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.