Most movies give you a chance to get comfortable with their narratives before they hit you with the hard stuff. “Zombieland” director Rueben Fleischer’s profane, bullet-riddled, urban crime thriller “Gangster Squad” (*** OUT OF ****) cherishes no such illusions. Early into the action, the arch villain of Angel City—real-life hoodlum legend Mickey Cohen—threads chains around the rear bumpers of two automobiles with an angry out-of-town mobster entangled in a hammock of chains between the cars. Native Americans saved this ghastly fate for only the most repugnant whites in old movie westerns, except with horses rather than cars. After a brief conversation, Cohen orders the cars to careen off in different directions. An aerial long shot depicts the poor dastard as his body bursts apart in the middle. Indeed, “Gangster Squad” isn’t for everybody. This suspenseful, often violent, but thoroughly melodramatic law and order epic recounts how an undercover unit of Los Angeles cops fought fire with fire in their war on crime. They destroyed Cohen’s dreams of turning California into his own private criminal empire. Movies like “Gangster Squad” used to be the bread and butter for Warner Brothers. The landmark Burbank studio produced the earliest and most controversial gangster thrillers in the 1930s with the three most memorable stars: James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, and Humphrey Bogart.
Essentially, Chief Parker asks O’Mara to assemble a unit to harass Cohen. "Don't make arrests," Parker grumbles. "This is occupied territory. Wage guerrilla warfare." O’Mara forms a rainbow-colored “A-Team” consisting of African-American Officer Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie of “Real Steel”), older white cop, Officer Max Kennard (Robert Patrick of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”), his Hispanic partner, Officer Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña of “End of Watch”), Officer Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi of “Ted”), and eventually Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling of “Drive”). One of the first things that they do is plant a bug in Cohen’s house so they can monitor him. Methodically, these guys shoot up Cohen’s bars, casinos, and disrupt his narcotics traffic. Wooters takes an interest in Cohen’s girlfriend, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone of “Easy A”), who is supposed to be teaching Mickey etiquette. True events "inspired" “Gangster Squad,” and this means that Hollywood has taken dramatic license with history. Actually, the movie is based loosely on Paul Lieberman’s book. As far as I know, our tall, rugged hero didn’t go toe-to-toe with the considerably shorter Cohen in a public place and beat him to a bloody pulp. Of course, movies have to be both heroic and confrontational, and "Gangster Squad" possesses both of these attributes.