Gangster Squad is a stylized and clearly fictional retelling of the real-life adventures of a special Los Angeles police squad created to fight organized crime in the city. It’s a messy film at times, but director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) keeps the tone casual and the action entertaining. In addition to some fun performances by the likes of Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Sean Penn the movie also looks pretty fantastic thanks to some great period details, seamless digital work and stylish action sequences.
The film was originally slotted for a late 2012 release, but real world tragedy led to its dismissal to January of this year so that a scene involving a gangster shootout in a movie theater could be dropped and a replacement one filmed. Opinions vary as to whether or not that was a necessary move, but most everyone expected the original scene to be included on the Blu-ray/DVD amidst the special features. Unfortunately, it appears WB has decided to live in an alternate reality where that scene and its deletion never occurred. There’s no mention anywhere on the disc, and it’s not included in the deleted scenes. The question is, what does Fleischer have to say about it all?
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Gangster Squad.
Gangster Squad (2013)
Commentators: Ruben Fleischer (director)
1. Penn used to train as a boxer when he was younger.
2. Opening scene in the Hollywoodland hills includes a shot as a call out to Bela Lugosi. Penn apparently does a “pretty good” Lugosi impression.
3. Coyotes are incredibly skittish.
4. An early scene was filmed in a building that was once called home by the Black Dahlia. Fleischer appreciates the connection to L.A.’s true sordid history.
5. Fleischer claims this is Mireille Enos‘ big screen debut, but he’s forgetting her star turn as “Yoga Instructor #1” in the Ashley Judd/Hugh Jackman rom-com Someone Like You.
6. Fleischer is incredibly complimentary towards the CGI companies, Crazy Horse and Hammerhead, who handled the digital work on the film.
7. He used a hand held camera to shoot the kitchen scene between Brolin and Enos but has since regretted it. “I’m not sure if in the end it was the right decision. It’s a little conspicuous to me when I watch it.”
8. Apparently The Dark Knight hosed the film *during* production too. The squad’s first meet-up scene was supposed to be shot in the Los Angeles River but couldn’t as Nolan was filming there. They had to shoot it under the 6th St Bridge at street level instead.
9. The squad’s first (botched) raid takes place in a casino based on a real one that was hidden in a barn located near Warner Bros. and Walt Disney’s studios. Extras in costume used to come to the casino on their breaks to gamble away their studio paychecks.
10. Fleischer yawns during his own commentary at the 40:12 mark.
11. The L.A. Times featured a series of articles about the real life Gangster Squad, and screenwriter Will Beall turned it into a more exciting and “heightened” version of the true story. Beall was an L.A. cop who retired, wrote a novel (“L.A. Rex”), wrote a script for his own novel and then wrote this script which ended up on the Black List.
12. The big multi-car chase scene features a combination of live action and green screen work. Most impressively, the three overhead shots during the chase are entirely CGI.
13. The horizontal tracking shot that opens the squad’s montage of successes was a nod to Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy.
14. The acid on the pants scene was accomplished via dry ice up the actor’s pants leg. The crew apparently chanted “smoky pants! smoky pants!” which upset Gosling as he was attempting to be serious.
15. The Chinatown sequence required some obvious practical and digital work, but one unexpected bit involved the digital removal of a restaurant sign proudly stating “As seen in Jackie Chan’s Rush Hour!”
16. Fleischer shot the film digitally, but while he loves the medium, “the one thing it doesn’t do very well is fire. Or explosions. It just goes straight to white.” They had to paint blacks back in to enhance the fire scenes.
17. The set dressers were mildly miffed after the scene where Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi) is found dead because Gosling chose to spontaneously break various bottles unaware that they were actual period glassware.
18. Jay Leno lives up the street from the house used for Mickey Cohen’s home, and he mentioned on The Tonight Show during one of the star’s appearances that he could hear the filming. This is impressive as he spends most of his time in his garage screaming “Look at my shit!”. Probably.
19. Fleischer mentions during the Brolin/Gosling porch chat that they “didn’t do a lot of re-shoots with this movie, this was one of the only ones.” And that’s as close as he comes to referencing the theater shootout that they had to go back and re-shoot for well known reasons.
20. The Parks Plaza Hotel in the final shootout is vacant but has been used in multiple films. The action that moves into the lobby features 100% CGI blood and floor/wall hits so as not to damage the protected building. The slow-mo shootout on either side of the lobby’s Christmas tree was intended to play to a Christmas song like “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Silent Night” but Fleischer went with the score instead.
21. Brolin and Penn were excited for the fist fight at the end of the film and spent multiple weeks rehearsing the brawl. Fleischer states his intent was to best the fight (also in water) at the end of Lethal Weapon.
22. The final shot of the movie was filmed via a remote control helicopter with camera attached.
Best in Commentary
- “I like to call him [Troy Garity] the Boba Fett of Gangster Squad. He kind of steals every scene he’s in and he’s got this menacing quality, but he does it all without a word.”
- “It’s kind of a shame that these gorgeous vehicles got destroyed. But that’s the cost of movie-making.”
- “Nothing says suspense like little kids tossing firecrackers around.”
- “I just love seeing stuff blow up in slow motion.”
Two things are most notable about this commentary. The first is that Fleischer is a boring speaker who sounds like he’s actually bored himself. He has some interesting anecdotes and thoughts to be sure, but his delivery is flat and tired to the point that you can hear him yawn a couple times. And second, Fleischer seems intent on joining Warners in pretending the theater shootout re-shoots never happened.
The absence of the scene on the disc’s special features is insulting to the talented people who crafted it both behind the scenes and on camera, but Fleischer’s lack of commentary on it is a missed opportunity. He shouldn’t comment on the real life shooting, obviously, but it would be interesting to hear him discuss the thought process behind the decision to re-shoot as well as the effort that went into rethinking the scene in general.
The track features a few fun bits, but Fleischer’s seemingly uninterested and monotone voice keeps it from being a must-listen.