Gangster Squad: Starring Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin

A cast that consists of Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin, three of our best actors, makes a film like “Gangster Squad” appear irresistible. Directed by Ruben Fleischer, “Gangster Squad,” which is set in 1949, centers on the events surrounding the LAPD’s efforts to take back their nascent city of Los Angeles from one of the most dangerous mafia bosses of all time.

Sean Penn plays ruthless, Brooklyn-born mob king Mickey Cohen, who 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. And he does it all with the protection of not only his own paid goons, but also the police and the politicians he has under his thumb. It’s enough to intimidate the bravest, street-hardened cop, except for the small, secret crew of LAPD outsiders led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who come together to try to tear Cohen’s world apart.

The film also stars Oscar nominee Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña, Robert Patrick and Mireille Enos. The screenplay was written by Will Beall,

Warner Bros. Pictures presents, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, a Lin Pictures/Kevin McCormick Production, “Gangster Squad.” The film is being distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, and in select territories by Village Roadshow Pictures.

“Gangster Squad” is an action-packed story of redemption, of righting wrongs, of men taking back what’s theirs, and the belief and commitment required to make a difference, to save the city they love, the City of Angels.

In order to preserve the law in Los Angeles, the members of the gangster squad—a small group of LAPD cops secretly tasked to take on the city’s most nefarious crime lord, Mickey Cohen—would have to break it. “Gangster Squad,” inspired by these true events, depicts the height of Hollywood’s glamorous Golden Age in 1949, and also a time of great turmoil in L.A. Cohen ran the town and had local government officials at the highest levels in his pocket. It would take a lot of guts—there could be no glory in it—to put an end to his reign.

Ruben Fleischer, the film’s director/executive producer, a former history major, couldn’t wait to delve into that world. “It was such an exciting time: that elegant, art deco, post-war era when the city was really being reborn and expanding,” he observes. “There was exuberance about the victory overseas, the men coming home, and the economy coming back. I’ve always been fascinated by that period, so when the opportunity to explore it came along, I jumped at it.”

Producer Dan Lin says, “Ruben wanted to put a new twist on the genre by taking his contemporary filmmaking aesthetic and applying it to the period setting, providing a modern edge to a story that takes place back in the days when the good guys had to act like mobsters to take down a mobster.”

And they did, essentially engaging in a turf war with the bad guys, though the cops’ modus operandi in going for Cohen’s inner workings wasn’t exactly by the books.

Josh Brolin, who, as Sgt. John O’Mara, heads up the squad, notes, “In the movie, my character has returned from World War II, where he fought to make sure his country, and several others, could maintain their independence. He was heroic. Then he comes home to L.A. and finds that Mickey Cohen has stripped his city dry of any honor, so he has no problem saying yes when his chief enlists his help. And because O’Mara and the others are operating covertly, they don’t worry about liability, they don’t think that, ‘Oh, if we do this we’ll get sued.’ The cops essentially behave as badly as the criminals, because that is the only way to get to them.”

“These guys have sort of been forced into a situation where, because everyone around them has become complacent or worse, it’s tough to be on the right side of the law,” adds Ryan Gosling, who plays a cop initially reluctant to join the lineup. “A few of them decide they’re not going to stand around and watch while their city is taken over, they’re going to take matters into their own hands. Some because they can’t stand the injustice and feel compelled to right the wrongs, and others, like the character I play, because it’s become personal.”

“There was a real shift in the culture at that time, and something had to be done,” Lin says. “Gangsters had taken over New York and Chicago, and L.A. had become their next target. It was virgin territory and every mobster’s dream: blue skies, sunny beaches, and beautiful girls.”

Emma Stone, who plays a wannabe actress-turned-moll, instantly fell for the story when she read the screenplay. “It had such a romantic and smoky and nostalgic feel, with a lot of intense action and suspense. I immediately felt that I knew what it must have been like to be a part of that place and time.”

The movie is based on former Los Angeles Times writer/editor Paul Lieberman’s book, Gangster Squad, his non-fiction account of what he calls “the battle for Los Angeles” that took place between the police and Cohen’s crew from the mid-1940s all through the ’50s. Will Beall, a former LAPD homicide detective, penned the script.

“What struck me about these guys is that they risked everything, and not for recognition, not for medals, not for monetary gain, but for the future of the city,” Beall offers. “They believed in the promise of L.A.”

“I’ve always wanted to make a gangster movie,” says producer Michael Tadross. “Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Cagney, George Raft—I loved them all. Will’s script evoked the genre and the period right from the first page, and the true stories and people Lieberman wrote about that inspired it were just incredible. We wanted to make a proper gangster film, but for today’s audience.”

Producer Kevin McCormick states, “The book, as well as the articles Paul wrote in the L.A. Times that were the basis for it, covered a lot of terrain, a bigger time span. But one particular angle—about Bill Parker taking over as police chief and looking to clean up the town—became a natural point of view to build our story around.”

According to Lieberman, “L.A. went from being a dusty outpost at the beginning of the 20th century, through prohibition in the ’20s, to a home for the booming aviation and defense industries during World War II. By the end of the 1940s, it had become a sprawling, modern city of something like four million people, ripe for the picking by the Eastern mafia. So, when Chief William Parker took charge, it was a critical time. He was humorless, an extreme disciplinarian, and he was going to put an end to the corruption.”

Played in “Gangster Squad” by Nick Nolte, “Whiskey Bill” Parker is a man who isn’t going to give over to any vices, like so many before him have done; he’s going to meet the corruption head on. That means taking on public enemy number one, Mickey Cohen, brought to life on screen by Sean Penn.

“I thought it would be a fun old-school gangster picture with a cast I have great admiration for,” Penn says. “And upon meeting Ruben Fleischer, I was sold.”

“These characters and the amazing actors who signed on to play them, this story, the fact that it’s all based on the city’s history and, to top it off, that it’s my favorite film genre,” Fleischer smiles, “it all just got me really excited to make this movie.”