Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros has begun negotiating with Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin to star in Gangster Squad, the Will Beall-scripted crime drama that will be directed by Zombieland helmer Ruben Fleischer. Production will begin in the fall. Deadline told you last month that the studio had offered two of the main roles to Penn and Gosling. The linchpin of the film is Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen, which is the role that Penn is in talks to play. Gosling and Brolin are in talks to play two cops assigned to bring him down when the gangster’s penchant for violence leaves the blood of innocents on the street. Dan Lin and Kevin McCormick are producing.

Penn had become shaky on the role for a bit — he’s also in talks to star with Christian Bale in the Kurt Johnstad-scripted drama The Last Photograph, which will be directed by The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo helmer Niels Arden Oplev for Dark Castle, but that pic doesn’t start production till next spring — but things have worked out after all. For Penn, this could well be as memorable a gangster turn as when Robert De Niro played Al Capone in The Untouchables. Cohen, a former boxer who became an associate of Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, was a charismatic figure who caroused around town with a gorgeous girl on his arm, and often with his attractive etiquette coach at his side. He once even took part in a Life Magazine profile. But he was also considered a sociopath whose vices included sex and extortion, and whose mood could darken on a dime. When innocent people got hurt, law enforcement hardened to the fact he had to be stopped.

The drama, based on a series of articles by Paul Lieberman, is the fact-based tale of the crime fighting exploits of a squad of elite Los Angeles officers in the 1940s charged with stopping him and other mobsters. Screenwriter Beall is a former South Central Los Angeles cop who wrote the novel L.A. Rex.

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