Last July's Aurora, Colo., shooting at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises that left 12 dead and more wounded shook everyone, including Gangster Squad's filmmakers. The crime drama starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Sean Penn is a nostalgic take on the golden age of movies, the mob and dames. Originally, the movie featured a scene in which gunmen opened fire in a packed movie theater. Out of respect for the victims of Aurora, the scene was cut, the production team did reshoots and the original September release date was pushed back.
Opening this weekend, the film is a love letter to Hollywoodland with snazzy fedoras, classic cars and neon-bathed streets. But while the theater scene is gone, there are still plenty of shootouts. Will audiences enjoy a bullet-ridden popcorn picture? Especially considering the nation is still reeling from the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., where a lone gunman fired upon an elementary school.
That's a question audiences will decide this weekend. Jack Reacher, which opened with a sniper shooting random pedestrians, failed to generate much heat at the box office. Gangster Squad may be violent but (unlike Reacher) the period setting does create a distance from our modern-day fears. We kept our focus on what this movie is: a handsomely mounted studio film featuring nice turns from A-list stars. Here are five things you need to know about Gangster Squad:
1. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone's Reunion Is Crazy, Stupid and Lovely: Early on, Sargent Jerry Wooters (Gosling) eyes Grace Faraday (Stone), the dame in that red tomato number. Their relationship—the bad cop gone good, the wannabe actress turned mob gal—is less like a rom-com than Gosling and Stone's previous flick together, but sparks fly regardless. And be sure to check out that dress. Serious Angelina Jolie leg going on!
2. After Two Real Shootings, Can a Tommy Gun Still Be Just a Tommy Gun? The wisest move director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) makes is maintaining a level of non-realism throughout. The tale of how a rogue division of the LAPD waged war on mob kingpin Mickey Cohen (Penn) to keep the City of Angels out of the grip of organized crime is loosely based on real events, but feels like The Untouchables: L.A. with the good guys (mostly) wining over the baddies, and for all the bullets unloaded, there's very little bloodshed.
3. The Return of Hollywoodland: From Chinatown to L.A. Confidential, Hollywood has had a fascination with the post-war West Coast for longer than the actual period. Gangster continues this tradition, celebrating a time when getting dirty never look so clean.
4. Sean Penn Out Acts Nick Nolte and That's OK: After two Oscars and numerous humanitarian causes, Sean Penn hamming it up as mad dog ex-fighter Mickey Cohen is wicked fun. Nick Nolte shows up too, chewing scenery as the head of the LAPD, but even a big wall of Nolte gets overshadowed by Penn's small stature. Cohen always seems a sound bite away from fuhgeddaboudit. Penn's clearly reveling in being able to let loose.
5. Josh Brolin and His Posse Make for a Terrific Squad: Brolin's been amazing in supporting roles. And now he's the leading man. Gruff, always thinking of his next move, Brolin takes his O'Mara right to the edge. Also strong is Mireille Enos as his pregnant hard-nosed wife, and Michael Peña as the apprentice to Robert Patrick's deadly sharpshooter.
Have you seen Gangster Squad? Does Brolin give The Untouchable's Kevin Costner a run for the money? Should Penn have saved this performance for Dick Tracy 2? Sound off in the comments!