138 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, September 19, 1997
Directed by Curtis Hanson
Starring Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Danny DeVito, Ron Rifkin
This film is on the Best of 1997 list.
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 25%
LETTERBOX: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
This film really should be seen on as big a screen as possible to get swept up in the awesome period flavor, but its brilliance comes through under any circumstances.
VIDEO RELEASE: 1998
No commentary, but it's hardly needed on a disc with the kind of in-depth extras this one one has. Hanson demonstrates how he pitched the film with old-time photos; brilliantly detailed making-of including screen tests; interactive info on L.A. in the 1950s and the mob scene at the time.
NOTABLE BONUS MATERIAL
Awesome trailer, Interactive map tour, music-only audio track (the score is incredible), extras described above.
2.35:1 ratio; 5.1 Dolby
Dubs: French. Subs: English, French, Spanish
Top notch for both feature & extras
DVD RATING: ****
Brilliant, complex, cinematic noir-inspired cop drama 'L.A. Confidential' an instant classic
It's 1953 in Los Angeles. The city is still pretty, but it has a dark underbelly that is the territory of corrupt cops and mobsters. There is a massacre at a all night diner that may have been a mob hit, but is being pinned on some convenient black youths.
Orbiting around the case are three detectives that couldn't be more different. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is the boy scout learning to play political games to further his career. Bud White (Russell Crowe) regularly practices vigilante justice on the men he arrests. Jack Vincennes has lost all interest in real police work and the only thing that fills his empty soul is his glamour gig as a technical adviser on a TV cop show.
So far "L.A. Confidential" might seem like a variation on your standard smoky noir detective drama. But don't blink because once these opening introductions are over, this movie is submerged in a web of intrigue, duplicity and character-driven tension, the likes of which are rarely seen in American movies anymore.
"L.A. Confidential" is rich in mood, rich in story and rich in talent. Adapted from James Ellroy's complex 500-page novel by writer Brian Helgeland and director Curtis Hanson ("The Hand That Rocks the Cradle"), it is a laborious effort that pays off in nearly every scene.
The investigation of the diner killings serves as the center of a plot wheel with a dozen spokes. One of the victims was a corrupt ex-cop. One was a high-priced call girl "cut" to look like a movie star.
These facts lead to the possible involvement of crooked politicians, high placed police officers and a tycoon who pimps the look-alike hookers. The three detectives are investigating different crimes that all link together in this one event, and each storyline has intricacies that turn over and over in your mind as they unfold. It is a fun movie to be lost in -- the kind of dense, gripping, stylistic period piece Quentin Tarantino might make if he gave up caffeine and pop culture.
Hanson's passion for this project and his characters shows. It helps him keep a tight reign on the story as it tries to gallop off in several directions at once.
The movie is visually luscious and rewardingly intelligent, but "Confidential" wouldn't have the ardent impact it does without a stable of brilliant actors who give memorable performances.
The two leads went to virtual unknowns Guy Pearce (unrecognizable from his role as the screaming queen pretty boy in "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert") and Russell Crowe ("Virtuosity"), who play the yin and yang of the tough guy cop. Pearce's square-jawed Ed Exley is a straight arrow, while Crowe's Bud White sees himself a judge, jury and executioner, especially when confronting wife-beaters and rapists. Both breathe sympathy and gut-level tension into their characters.
As stylish, apathetic celebrity cop Jack Vincennes, Kevin Spacey continues to prove himself one of the best actors alive. With the most subtle inflections he betrays his character's hollow soul while projecting his outer conceit.
"Confidential" also boasts notable efforts by Kim Bassinger as a prostitute who falls for Bud White, James Cromwell ("Babe," "Star Trek: First Contact") as a corrupt police captain and Danny DeVito as a tabloid reporter.
Ellroy fans will find the story has been paired down considerably from the book with fewer sub-plots, cleaner characters and clearer motives, but Ellroy himself has been giving the movie high marks.
The only time "L.A. Confidential" gets into trouble is when it tries too hard to show its characters' weaknesses. There are a few distractingly out-of-character moments for one of the leads, for instance.
But Hanson's deft direction and his subliminal dedication to period detail (even his use of some very traditional symbolism) make this an extraordinary picture.
Last year director Lee Tamahori took a stab at this kind of heavy, character-driven, post-war detective story with "Mulholland Falls" and flopped. "L.A. Confidential" is the kind of movie he was trying to make.