Hollywood’s Man of the Moment: Anthony Mackie on Fighting Gangsters

In “Gangster Squad,” Hollywood’s latest cops-and-robbers movie, Mackie plays a switchblade-wielding cop who proudly patrols one of the most crime-ridden areas of Los Angeles.

A movie based on former LA Times writer/editor Paul Lieberman’s book, Gangster Squad, it’s a simple story of events surrounding the LAPD’s attempt to preserve the law in Los Angeles and details Lieberman’s account of “the battle for Los Angeles” that took place between the police and the notorious gangster Mickey Cohen.


(L-r) GIOVANNI RIBISI as Officer Conwell Keeler, JOSH BROLIN as Sgt. John O’Mara, RYAN GOSLING as Sgt. Jerry Wooters, ANTHONY MACKIE as Officer Coleman Harris, MICHAEL PEÑA as Officer Navidad Ramirez and ROBERT PATRICK as Officer Max Kennard in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama “GANGSTER SQUAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

“My character Coleman Harris gave up his high-ranking position on the force to become a beat cop because he wanted to attack the problems at the source,” shares Mackie who trained at the Julliard School of Drama.

A classic story of good vs. evil, “Gangster Squad’s” plot unfolds in an unhurried fashion. The year is 1949 and Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is the leader of all illegal activity in Los Angeles and a rising force in the local criminal underworld.  In a quest to bust up Cohen’s rackets, a secret crew of LAPD outsiders led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) set up the Gangster Squad – a posse of cops operating as judge, jury, and executioners who  come together to try to tear Cohen’s world apart.


(L-r) MICHAEL PEÑA as Officer Navidad Ramirez and ANTHONY MACKIE as Officer Coleman Harris in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama “GANGSTER SQUAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

“Coleman wanted to go to the streets in a black neighborhood and fight every two-bit dealer. But then O’Mara offers him the opportunity to go to the top of the chain, to get at the guy who’s facilitating the drugs that trickle down to the kids,” Mackie continues.

Under the direction of Ruben Fleischer, (“Zombieland”) it’s another approach to the gangster genre  and was originally slated to open in September 2012, but  was delayed  after the movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado occurred and made a scene of gunfire in Hollywood’s Grauman’s Chinese theater seem inappropriate.


(L-r) JOSH BROLIN as Sgt. John O’Mara and ANTHONY MACKIE as Officer Coleman Harris in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama “GANGSTER SQUAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

“I created Coleman Harris because I didn’t feel I could tell a story about Los Angeles in the late `40s and not talk about Central Avenue, the Jazz Corridor, the uniquely African American culture in the city during that era,” screenwriter Will Beall states. “Harris is a guy who knows that world and who walked away from a promising career to represent the law in a part of L.A. that the rest of the department isn’t interested in.”

For Mackie’s character, costume designer Mary Zophres found inspiration in an unexpected source: baseball legend Jackie Robinson. “Going through the research, it struck me that there were not a lot of African Americans in the police force in 1949, and that made me think of Robinson and his early days in major league baseball. Out of uniform, he was conservatively dressed but always looked nice, which is what I decided to do with Harris.”

Marginally entertaining, “Gangster Squad’s” saving grace hinges entirely on its cinematography, production design and costumes and what’s good about the movie is the physical production itself. Filmed in and around Los Angeles, it utilizes a number of historic locations and transforms others to recreate memorable hotspots popular during the 1940’s. There’s a lot of nice touches like  the use of the city’s most iconic site Union Station and  Slapsy Maxie’s, the nightclub where Cohen spends his evenings dining with the public officials he keeps in his pocket, just as the real Cohen did.

Mackie will next be seen in theaters in the horror thriller “Vipaka,” opposite Forest Whitaker, the action comedy film “Pain & Gain” with Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson and the crime thriller “Runner, Runner” with Ben Affleck.

Samantha Ofole-Prince is a journalist and movie critic who covers industry-specific news that includes television and film. She serves as the Entertainment Editor for Trendy Africa.

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