In September of 2011, a hopeful group of actors gathered to begin shooting scenes for "Gangster Squad," and the expectations were sky high. Ryan Gosling's impressive work in "Drive" was only a weekend away from being seen, Sean Penn was a mere two years removed from his Best Actor win for "Milk" and he was joined by his co-star Josh Brolin (who had also received a Best Supporting nomination for his work). Any amateur could look at the assembled talent and think, "Wow, this movie is going to be fantastic!" And that's without even mentioning Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Michael Pena or director Ruben Fleischer ("Zombieland"). This was a "can't miss" project, and the only thing left to do was film the movie, sit back and enjoy the accolades and cash which would undoubtedly come rolling in.
And then … well, real life happened.
The first warning sign may have been the script. A gent by the name of Will Beal delivered it, and though he'd written on the "Castle" series, "Gangster Squad" seems to have been the first movie screenplay he undertook. (That's not a deal-breaker, and since "Gangster Squad" he's landed cherry gigs like "Lethal Weapon 5" and "Justice League," so the guy is either a hell of a writer or an amazing salesman.) The issue with the story seems to be the derivative nature of the entire effort; in other words, there's nothing here you haven't seen before.
Take a look:
You've got scenes from "Mystic River," "L.A. Confidential," "American Gangster," "Sin City," "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," "Payback," and "The Godfather," and that's only in the trailer! Still, could this have ended up as a passable movie? Potentially, though we'll never see an original version of the film to ascertain that verdict.
Six weeks before the film was schedule to hit theaters, a horrific tragedy occurred in Aurora, Colorado. One of the key scenes in the film, a mass shooting in a theater, led Warner Bros. to pull the film to reflect sensitivity with regards to the Aurora theater shootings.
This was undoubtedly the correct call, though the better call may have been to shelve the movie altogether. Nevertheless, "Gangster Squad" was moved to January, and in August the actors were called in for reshoots. Warner Bros. wanted the controversial scene completely excised -- which naturally led to continuity, pacing, and tone issues, all of which were tackled via a Chinatown angle. What screenwriter or director would be capable of cobbling together a new climactic scene in a week? To call this a band-aid would be kind, as with a band-aid you'd eventually heal, whereas this was a setback from which "Gangster Squad" would never recover.
Then, only a month before "Gangster Squad" was scheduled to be released, another tragic shooting occurred, and this time in an elementary school. Do audiences really want to see a shoot 'em up gangster film after seeing news reports, day after day, of the terrible consequences of violence? The answer is trending toward "no".
"Gangster Squad" now sits at a rotten 53 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and we'll never be able to unwind precisely what happened, though the eventual outcome now seems certain. Whether it was real-life events or a poor movie to begin with, "Gangster Squad" will clearly go down in history as a film that didn't live up to its potential; relegated to the doldrums of January, destined to be seen by around zero people, likely to never be heard from again, a blip on the radar of the powerhouse talent Warner Bros recruited.