Awards Profile: The Gangster Squad

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Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Written by: Will Beall

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Nolte, Frank Grillo, Robert Patrick, Michael Pena, Anthony Mackie, Josh Pence, and Mireille Enos

Synopsis (from Warner Brothers): Los Angeles, 1949. Ruthless, Brooklyn-born mob king Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) runs the show in this town, reaping the ill-gotten gains from the drugs, the guns, the 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 LAPD outsiders led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who come together to try to tear Cohen’s world apart.

Shooting entirely in and around Los Angeles, including in many of the actual locations featured in the story, “The Gangster Squad” is a colorful retelling of events surrounding the LAPD’s efforts to take back their nascent city from one of the most dangerous mafia bosses of all time. The screenplay is by Will Beall (TV’s “Castle”), based on Paul Lieberman’s series of articles entitled “Tales From the Gangster Squad.” The film is being produced by Dan Lin (“Sherlock Holmes”), Kevin McCormick (upcoming “The Lucky One”) and Michael Tadross (“Arthur”).

“The Gangster Squad” stars Penn as real-life mobster Mickey Cohen; Brolin and Gosling as the LAPD’s Sgt. John O’Mara and Jerry Wooters; and Stone as Grace Faraday, Cohen’s moll and the object of Wooters’ attention.

The movie also stars Robert Patrick (“Flags of Our Fathers”) as Officer Max Kennard, a deadly cop who patrols the Olvera Street beat; Michael Peña (“Battle Los Angeles”) as Kennard’s over-eager sidekick, Navidad Ramirez; Giovanni Ribisi (“Avatar”) as the force’s Conway Keeler, an electronics expert who takes as much pleasure in fixing his son’s bike as he does tinkering with experimental, military-grade equipment; and Anthony Mackie (“The Adjustment Bureau”) as Coleman Harris, a switchblade-wielding cop who proudly patrols one of the most crime-ridden areas of the city.

Why It Could Succeed:
One of the first films I marked down as a major Oscar player this year when I sat down to initially do my early Oscar predictions was this flick. In its favor is a baity premise, an ensemble cast full of potential nominees, the direction of a young filmmaker possibly upping his game to a new level while tackling a new genre, and a resemblance in some ways to ‘L.A. Confidential’, which certainly was up the alley of Oscar voters (with the added bonus this time around of being about real cops and gangsters). The Academy does love their period pieces, and they’re not opposed to a good crime story either. Factor in how good the film might be considering the talent involved, and you very well could have something that all manner of Academy member could go for. The direction, the acting (probably the main selling point for me here…seriously, who doesn’t relish the thought of Ryan Gosling and Sean Penn going at it as cops and robbers on a grand scale?), the writing, the sets, the costumes, everything could fall into place and give this film the across the board citations that fuel Oscar campaigns and ultimately the chance for Oscar wins and Oscar glory, not to mention being one of the contenders that is expected to do well financially. There’s only a few films each year that have all of those pieces in place to make that sort of awards run, and this year ‘The Gangster Squad’ certainly could be one of them. If everything breaks right, it could wind up being one of the 3-5 most nominated films of 2012.

Why It Could Fail:
This does ultimately seem like more of a film looking to be a commercial hit than an awards juggernaut. An October release date could go either way, but if the studio was incredibly high on its prospects, they’d probably be shooting for a release closer to a major moviegoing holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas. October suggests that they’re going to be gunning for money and hoping for precursor love, instead of the other way around. Also, as much as the film may want to claim to have the pedigree of something like ‘L.A. Confidential’, it could wind up being closer to ‘Public Enemies’ in the end, and that won’t help its case one bit. We haven’t seen a trailer or anything of the like yet, so lots of what we’re going on is speculation, and it wouldn’t be the first time that we’ve assumed a film is one thing before it turns out to clearly be something very different. For better or worse, much of the chatter about ‘The Gangster Squad’ is purely a guessing game.

Awards Speculation:
There really is potential across the board here for the movie, in terms of the categories it can compete in. A perfect storm could result in a double digit nomination total. Best Picture is obviously the big one, and I’m currently of the notion that ‘The Gangster Squad’ could very well get nominated not just there, but also for Best Director and Adapted Screenplay as well, making the trifecta that you often need to be taken seriously for a Best Picture win. There’s also myriad opportunities for acting citations here, which could be a real boon to the film if used properly. The studio could have either Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, or Sean Penn compete as a Lead in Best Actor to un-crowd their own glut of contenders in Best Supporting Actor, which could also include Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, or Giovanni Ribisi as well. Emma Stone could also make a play in Best Supporting Actress, and the tech categories will all be there for the film to make its play for. My best guess right now is that if the film does well and is a real contender, look for the major nominations to come through, along with 2 acting citations, and a handful of techs. If the film falls short, still keep an eye on Gosling and Penn for Supporting nods (especially if this turns into another year where Gosling has a few strong performances to choose from, like last year), but that could wind up being it. We’ll certainly know more as October draws closer…

The film opens in theaters on October 12th, 2012 and will be distributed by Warner Brothers.

Oscar Potential:
Best Picture
Best Director (Ruben Fleischer)
Best Actor (Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, or Sean Penn)
Best Supporting Actor (Brolin, Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Penn, Robert Patrick, or Giovanni Ribisi)
Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Will Beall)
Best Cinematography
Best Film Editing
Best Costume Design
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing
Best Original Score

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