Book to film: ‘Gangster Squad’ chronicles mob wars

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Based on a true story chronicled in the book “Gangster Squad,” by Paul Lieberman, Warner Bros.’ new action-thriller of the same title 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.

Set in Los Angeles, 1949, “Gangster Squad” revolves around ruthless Brooklyn-born mob king Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) who runs the show in this town, reaping the ill-gotten gains from drugs, guns, 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 who are under his control.   It’s enough to intimidate even the bravest, street-hardened cop, except, perhaps, for the small, secret crew of Los Angeles Police Department 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.

Lieberman’s book is his nonfiction 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 says.  “They believed in the promise of LA.”

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 LA.  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.

Exciting time

Ruben Fleischer, the film’s director/executive producer, a former history major, said: “It was such an exciting time: that elegant, art deco, post-war era when the city was really being reborn and expanding.

“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.”

SCENES from the movie. The cast is led by Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

Producer Dan Lin said: “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 book.

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

“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—it all just got me really excited to make this movie,”  Fleischer said.

Opening across the Philippines on Jan. 30, “Gangster Squad” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

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