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Doug's Take: 'Gangster Squad' is likable, if you can handle the violence

Published: Friday, Jan. 11 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Josh Brolin stars as Sgt. John O'Mara and Ryan Gosling stars as Sgt. Jerry Wooters in "Gangster Squad."

Wilson Webb, Wilson Webb

"GANGSTER SQUAD" — ★★★ — Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick; R (strong violence and language); in general release

If you're squeamish, the graphic introduction to the ruthlessness of Mickey Cohen in "Gangster Squad" will have you looking for the exit.

In this mix of "Dick Tracy" and "The Untouchables," Sean Penn portrays the infamous mobster who is determined to take over Los Angeles and will do anything to strengthen his hold.

Josh Brolin stars as Sgt. John O'Mara, an honest cop who isn't afraid to walk into any situation, even the enterprises of Cohen that have corrupt police protection.

His guts and courage come to the attention of Chief Parker of the LAPD. Parker, played at his gritty, gravelly best by Nick Nolte, recruits O'Mara to put together an "off the books" team that will do whatever is necessary to take Cohen down. And O'Mara does exactly that.

With expertise ranging from Max Kennard, an old West-style lawman played by Robert Patrick, to Officer Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), a wire man with expertise in audio surveillance, O'Mara gets set for battle.

After an initial refusal, Ryan Gosling, as Sgt. Jerry Wooters, agrees to join the team when a shoeshine boy he knows is gunned down in a Cohen-initiated street battle.

Wooters and O'Mara are friends and both are seasoned World War II veterans and tempered by the battlefield. What transpires is all-out warfare that has even the alleged "good guys" asking if they're too far over the line.

A bunch of subplots are at play in "Gangster Squad." Emma Stone plays Cohen's girlfriend, Grace, and when Sgt. Wooters puts the moves on her, the squad figures he has a death wish.

Then, there's the lovely and very pregnant Mrs. O'Mara, who decides in order to help her husband survive, she is going to help select the men on the squad — and she's got the gift.

If you can handle the graphic violence, if you're not at all interested in the real story of Mickey Cohen and the mob influence in the West, and if you can handle Sean Penn's bizarre portrayal of Cohen, then you might just like "Gangster Squad." There's something magical in the look and feel of Los Angeles in the 1940s and the filmmakers have captured it beautifully.

You can't help but like the untouchables … I mean, the "Gangster Squad." They're macho, charismatic and they give no quarter, especially Brolin and Gosling. Mirieille Enos, as the long-suffering Mrs. O'Mara, is the real female star of this film.

"Gangster Squad" is rated R for strong violence and language; running time: 110 minutes.

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