GANGSTER SQUAD directed by Ruben Fleischer, written by Will Beall from the book by Paul Lieberman, with Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Sean Penn. A Warner Bros. release. 113 minutes. Opens Friday (January 11). See times. Read the review.
LOS ANGELES - Gangster Squad can't catch a break.
Ruben Fleischer's cops-and-mobsters actioner - very loosely based on the efforts of the Los Angeles Police Department to run Mickey Cohen's underworld operations out of town in 1949 - was originally set to open last September, with a trailer attached to The Dark Knight Rises.
But after the July massacre at a Dark Knight Rises screening in Aurora, Colorado, Gangster Squad was yanked from Warner's release schedule for retooling. A shootout in a movie theatre was scrapped, replaced by a new confrontation in Chinatown. And just hours before the movie was screened for the junket press, the Newtown massacre happened.
The next day, at the movie's press conference, Josh Brolin is still trying to figure out how to handle it.
"Well, of course there's a sensitivity," he says, clearly thinking carefully about what he wants to say. "But you have to look at the grand scheme of things. You have video games, psychopharmaceuticals, low employment, parents who aren't at home.... There are many, many different factors. There's always been violence in movies and there always will be violence in movies, and whether it [enables] the one psychotic who's out there thinking the worst thoughts you can possibly think is always gonna be a mystery."
"The Aurora shooting was an unspeakable tragedy," says director Fleischer, "and out of respect for the families of the victims we felt it necessary to reshoot that sequence. And I'm proud of the fact that we did that. The Chinatown sequence is really strong. I think we should all respect the tragedy and not draw associations to our film because of these types of tragedies."
Fortunately, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are there to lighten things up; the Crazy, Stupid, Love. co-stars basically can't help themselves, pulling faces at each other during the press conference and generally goofing around. That's more or less the way they work, Gosling admits.
"I think it was hard for us to be serious," he says. "We'd made this comedy together and seen that we were a couple of knuckleheads, and we thought, ‘Oh, this could be fun, to work together again.' And then we had to try to be serious. I was trying to pretend to be Humphrey Bogart or something. And that kind of made it difficult. Did you find that hard?" he asks Stone.
"I found that hard, yeah," she deadpans. "But I really liked it." Her voice gets lower, and a little trembly. "I wanna work with you a lot, if you - if you'll have me."
More laughter. "Thanks so much for bearing witness," Stone says to the crowd.
Gosling affects a slightly higher voice than his own for his character, real-life cop Jerry Wooters. Did he base that on the actual person, or on the delivery of certain actors in older movies?
"That was more of a wardrobe issue," he says, simultaneously getting a laugh and elegantly dodging any actual discussion of his process. "The wool was quite itchy, so I had a rash and I channelled that irritation into my hatred for the gangsters."
Stone has a little more to say about creating her character.
"Mine wasn't based on a real person, which [was less pressure]," she says. "But what we had talked about was that she'd come out to Los Angeles to be famous, and she ended up on the arm of someone really notorious - which is kind of like what reality-show people are sometimes like today. She's just kind of famous by association, by proxy. I thought that was interesting; something pretty heartbreaking was going on underneath the surface."
Pressed on his own character's development, Gosling swings wide.
"I've always kind of admired how Bugs Bunny was not above dressing like a lady in order to get out of trouble," he says. "I thought that could be interesting, with this person trying to make himself inconspicuous. In some way, that was in my head, but I also was trying to relate that to the idea that this was a real person, and it's important to note that the man himself was a much braver and more admirable character than the version of him I play in the film.
"It was like trying to balance what felt best for the film and trying to honour the man himself. I did find it difficult."