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Gangster Squad tells the (sort of) true tale of California crime and punishment

L.A. Story

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Los ANGELES -- It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

That would seem to be the overriding theme of Gangster Squad, a tale of crime, corruption and bloody justice in post-Second World War Los Angeles -- at least behind the scenes.


The film was due to be released in September 2012 until the July 20 theatre shooting in Aurora, Colo., was deemed too close to a sequence in the film, in which mobsters fired machine guns into a movie audience from behind the screen. The release was delayed so the too-close-for-comfort scene could be replaced with a new sequence.

In December, the impressive cast, including Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, reconvened with director Ruben Fleischer for a press conference to talk about the making of the film, not long after the horrific crime in Newtown, Conn., again brought the issue of gun violence to the national dialogue.

For his part, actor Ryan Gosling seemed especially eager to keep the tone of the press conference light. Gosling plays L.A. cop Jerry Wooters, who initially resists the entreaties of Brolin's Sgt. John O'Mara to join a squad whose sole purpose is to damage the expanding criminal empire of ruthless crime boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn).

Asked about how he approached the character, the Canadian-born Gosling, 32, deadpans: "I always admired how Bugs Bunny was not above dressing like a lady to get out of trouble."

Asked about what the most challenging aspect of the role was, Gosling replies:

"It was challenging for me when I realized I was not going to get a Tommy gun. I thought for sure I would have one and instead, I got a little tiny lady gun. Josh kinda hogged the Tommy gun.

"So that was difficult for me."

The presence of Emma Stone may have been a contributing factor to Gosling's goofiness. The two played young lovers in the comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love, but Gosling admits Gangster Squad required a different approach.

"It was hard for us to be serious," Gosling says. "We made this comedy together and we were a couple of knuckleheads and then we thought, 'Well, this will be fun to work together again.'

"And then we had to try to be serious and I had to pretend like I was Humphrey Bogart or something."

Brolin, a seventh-generation Californian, was more invested in the subject matter of the film, which is based on Los Angeles history. (The Gangster Squad was a real unit set up by police chief William Parker to harass Cohen, even if the film takes liberties with their activities.)

He even quizzed his father, actor James Brolin, on period detail.

"I asked my pop about stories of what it was like back then ... and he didn't tell me anything useful" Brolin says.

"But he finally got to the set one day and we were looking out at the street that had been recreated... and he just went off on these stories about how when he was nine years old, how he would go peek in the back door of (Cohen hangout) Slapsy Maxie's and go down the street to Ciro's, looking for Mickey Cohen and his goons and all that kind of stuff."

As far as more recent history is concerned, director Ruben Fleischer and the cast agree the film is better for distancing itself from the real tragedy that struck Colorado.

"The Aurora shooting was an unspeakable tragedy and out of respect for the victims, we felt it was necessary to reshoot that scene," says Fleischer. "And I'm proud of the fact that we did that. We didn't compromise the film or its intent and I think the (replacement) Chinatown sequence is a really strong sequence."

Brolin, 44, says violence in movies is not in itself a cause of real-life violence.

"There's always been violence in movies and there will always be violence in movies and the one psychotic that's out there, thinking the worst possible thoughts you can possibly think, that's always going to be a mystery, I think."

Gangster Squad opens Friday, Jan 11, at Grant Park, McGillivray, Polo Park, St. Vital and Towne cinemas.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2013 C1


Updated on Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 7:26 AM CST: corrects typo in headline

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