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The squad

Actors who have played real-life gangsters

By Kim Morgan
Special to MSN Movies

"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster." So recalls Ray Liotta's Henry Hill in one of the greatest movies about gangsters, Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas." There's something to that line. For Hill, it's real life, but for those of us watching, it's a kind of fantasy we find both strangely relatable (the American dream and all) and yet totally alien, if we've never been involved in organized crime. The charismatic outlaw has been a major subject of cinema ever since movies were invented, and especially since they started to talk. He, or she, is a character we're drawn to, even if we're often repelled by such a character's activity. They intrigue, and sometimes, perhaps scarily so, inspire us: "Gangster" is a term frequently used proudly. The newest look at the all-American gangster isn't beating around the bush with its title -- "Gangster Squad" -- referring literally to the group of police detectives attempting to cleanse gangster Mickey Cohen out of the glamorous but down-and-dirty backdrop of 1940s and 1950s Los Angeles. Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin and Nick Nolte are among the stars leading the proceedings, but Sean Penn plays the big fish, Mickey Cohen. So with Penn in mind, we're looking at 10 terrific performances by actors (and one actress) who played real-life gangsters on-screen (so please excuse omissions like "The Godfather" and "Scarface: The Shame of a Nation," movies inspired by gangsters but which didn't name names). Be them Mafia-oriented, bank robbers or drug lords, these stars came in with a bang and, more than likely, went out with one, too.

Bing: More about 'Gangster Squad'

"Gangster Squad" is out in theaters Friday, Jan. 11.

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(Warner Bros. Pictures)

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