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L.A. Confidential
1997 - R - 136 Mins.
Director: Curtis Hanson
Producer: Curtis Hanson, Arnon Milchan, Michael G. Nathanson
Written By: Curtis Hanson, Brian Helgeland
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Ron Rifkin
Review by: Carl Langley
One glance at the cover of the ‘L.A. Confidential’ video and a person might assume that this crime flick is just another film-noir imitator – do I hear a ‘Mulholland Falls’? But the film itself is a gutsy adaptation of James Ellroy’s labyrinthine crime novel, clearing its own path with atmosphere, quality acting, and an appetizing screenplay.

Director Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland co-authored the screenplay, congesting it with corruption, eroticism, betrayal, and some wicked humor. The movie is set in an enticing Los Angeles during the 1950’s where almost everyone seems to be involved in some sort of scandal. Three cops are investigating a coffee shop massacre where six people were slaughtered – including an ex-cop. Three black men are charged, the notes are filed, and the case is closed.

Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) smells something fishy. He convinces Bud White (Russell Crowe) to dig deeper. With Ed’s straight-arrow integrity and Bud’s rapaciously brassy attitude, their endeavors to cut through the corruption in their own precinct are thrilling. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a third cop who occasionally helps with the case, but seems more interested in his position as the technical advisor for a Dragnet-like TV series called 'Badge of Honor' and his bribes from Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), an editor of Hush-Hush, the type of magazine that paved the way for today's tabloids.

‘L.A. Confidential’ is loaded with subplots. In many cases this only becomes a nag because some undernourished characters are introduced and many holes are left to be filled. Hanson said in an interview with the Baltimore Sun, “I got hooked on the characters, not the plot, and part of what hooked me on them was that, as I met them one after the other, I didn’t like them – but as I continued reading, I started to care about them.” If you are searching for a hero in this flick, you may be disappointed, yet the characters are so well developed, they are difficult to dislike.

The dialogue is sharp – like something from a Raymond Chandler novel; the words sound even sweeter coming from deft actors. Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe – two Australians cast as American detectives – are strong and assured in their roles. Kevin Spacey is wonderful as usual, flashing his guileful presence through Jack Vincennes’ cynicism. Kim Basinger, who won an Academy Award for her role as Lynn Bracken, has never looked better. Her performance is strong and bold, but maybe it's because she's surrounded by bold actors. As a woman ruptured between Pearce’s Ed and Crowe’s Bud, she has the opportunity to deliver a potent speech near the film’s finale but she comes across instead as pathetic. But if there were a “Best Role of Career” award, Basinger would be the most deserving recipient.

To capture the essence of L.A. in the 50's, Hanson screened his favorite films of that era, including Minnelli’s ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’ and Nicholas Ray’s ‘In a Lonely Place.’ Cinematographer Dante Spinetto does a wonderful job brightening the production design and giving the viewer an eyeful. Given the fact that it is shot in color, ‘L.A. Confidential’ captures the sensual feeling of a black and white film-noir movie.

At nearly 136 minutes, time passes quickly because the film is consistently absorbing and twisted. With so many misfires at the resurrection of this genre, Hanson has created a refreshing entry. ‘L.A. Confidential’ is easily one of the best motion pictures of 1997 – maybe even the decade.
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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