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'Tales From the Gangster Squad' pinpoints its target

November 10, 2010 |  6:52 pm


EXCLUSIVE: Amid all things superhero conjured up by the movie business these days, "Tales From the Gangster Squad" is a refreshing exception.

As my colleague Patrick Goldstein wrote this summer, this story of the Los Angeles Police Department  fighting gangland wars and trying to stem the invasion of East Coast Mafia in the 1940s and '50s is a  complicated tale filled with colorful characters -- an origin story, in a sense, of modern Los Angeles.

Or as producer Dan Lin told Goldstein, it's "The Untouchables" on the streets of L.A.

But bringing that kind of story to the screen in today's Hollywood isn't easy.  Which may be why Lin, producer Kevin McCormick and studio Warner Bros. are moving very deliberately in choosing the person to do that -- and showing some imagination as they do.

Rather than considering the usual suspects and hired hands, producers are in discussions with Ruben Fleischer, who's best known from "Zombieland', two sources familiar with those discussions said. (One can only imagine how a man who tracked trigger-happy gunslingers fighting the undead in a post-apocalyptic world will interpret the battle of cops vs. gangsters in a pre-apocalyptic Southern California.)

If that wasn't a bold enough choice, producers, the sources said, are also talking to Jose Padilha. If you haven't heard of him, you may soon enough. Padilha is the young and well-regarded auteur behind the Portugese-language "Elite Squad," which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival several years ago with its story of crime and corruption on the streets of 1990s-era Rio de Janeiro -- a Rio, incidentally, that has a few similarities with the colorful chaos of midcentury L.A.

[Update 7:18 pm: And "Crazy Heart" director Scott Cooper is also in the mix. So the directors behind a country-music drama, a zombie movie, and a Brazilian action film -- it really doesn't get more diverse than that.]

Conceived as an action movie with humor and snappy dialogue, "Gangster Squad" is based on Los Angeles Times reporting. (Not that we're implying a connection.)

Original drama with commercial hooks struggle to get made even with the biggest filmmakers and stars (see under: the many years it took Mark Wahlberg to get "The Fighter" made). Producers are, it seems, trying to get this one going with some young blood and fresh vision. We'll see if they can dodge the firing squad.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: The L.A.P.D. investigating the 1949 shooting of gangster Mickey Cohen. Credit: Los Angeles Times


The inside story on the 'Gangster Squad' movie