Themis-Athena | from somewhere between California and Germany | 01/21/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What is a good cop? One who joined the police force because he was unable to save his mother from being killed by an abusive husband, but who now uses violence not only against wife-beaters but whenever called for by his superior officers; be it to beat a confession out of a suspect or to discourage criminals from settling in town? Or one who joined the police force to emulate his father, a department legend; to go after "Rollo Tommasi" (the guy who thinks he can get away with anything), but who thereafter lets his career and department politics dictate his actions? Or, in the end, is it the one who has let corruption wipe out so thoroughly the reasons why he once joined the police force that he doesn't even remember a single one of them, but who for once in his life still finds it in himself to go after real criminals, even at the risk of his own life? This is just one, although maybe the central question asked in "L.A. Confidential," the movie based on James Ellroy's novel with the same name. And as does the book, the movie refuses to provide an answer to this and the other questions it asks.
The story is set up by tabloid editor Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), who during the movie's opening credits gleefully sums up the L.A. clichés that still hold true today: "Come to Los Angeles! The sun shines bright, the beaches are wide and inviting, ... there are jobs aplenty, and land is cheap. Every working man can have his own house, and inside the house a happy, all American family. You can have all this, and who knows, you can even be discovered - become a movie star or at least, singer. Life is good in Los Angeles: it's paradise on earth." Laughing sarcastically, however, he adds: "That's what they tell ya', anyway, 'cause they're selling an image. They're selling it through movies, radio, and television." Then Hudgens proceeds to tell the story of crime boss Mickey C.'s arrest, which left the void in the City of Angels's organized crime scene that sets the stage for this movie's story, and concludes with his tabloid's tag line: "Remember, dear readers, you heard it here first: Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush ..."
And as indicated in these opening lines, nothing is as it seems in this 1950s' version of a Los Angeles populated by hookers cut to look like movie stars and cops with more or less disreputable alternative sources of income. As the story progresses, its three heroes - career-driven and pseudo-correct Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), tough-fisted and golden-hearted Wendell "Bud" White (Russell Crowe) and nonchalant, corrupt "celebrity crime stopper" Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) - become unlikely allies in their search for their city's most elusive commodity: the truth. Shades of gray abound, and even the end, which (unlike the novel's) has at least some redeeming aspects, is not a happy ending by a long shot.
Just as many people longingly remembered the days of "The Maltese Falcon," "The Big Sleep" or, for that matter, "Chinatown," proclaimed "they don't make 'em like that anymore" and were ready to announce the death of the noir genre, along came a group of new directors and screenwriters and breathed new life into patient. "The Usual Suspects" is one excellent example, this one is another. Unlike other noir stories', this tale's heroes are no private detectives; but all the classic elements of a film noir are there, from a damsel in distress (Veronica Lake-look-alike hooker Lynn Bracken, award-winningly portrayed by Kim Basinger) to crime, corruption and abuse of power, and to dimmed lights and hard boiled dialogue with many memorable one-liners. In a year overshadowed by the success of the vastly overrated "Titanic," "L.A. Confidential" managed to at least collect the Academy Awards in the best supporting actress and best adapted screenplay categories (Kim Basinger and Brian Helgeland/Curtis Hanson, respectively; the movie had also been nominated in the best picture, best director - again Curtis Hanson -, best original score - Jerry Goldsmith -, best cinematography, best art direction and best editing categories). And while the 1990s have seen a revival of the noir genre, this one is a standout even among the new films noirs the past decade has brought us. It made the careers of its writers, director and two of its stars (Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe), and boosted those of several others of its cast members (Kim Basinger and Kevin Spacey, to name just two). I am sure it will find its eternal place in the annals of Hollywood, alongside its famous predecessors. There are way too few movies like this these days - if you haven't seen it already, go and buy or rent it soon. This is modern noir at its finest.
Also recommended: L.A. Confidential Raymond Chandler: Stories and Early Novels: Pulp Stories / The Big Sleep / Farewell, My Lovely / The High Window (Library of America) Complete Novels: Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, and The Thin Man (Library of America #110) Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s: The Postman Always Rings Twice / They Shoot Horses, Don't They? / Thieves Like Us / The Big Clock / Nightmare ... / I Married a Dead Man (Library of America) The Bogart Collection (Casablanca/The Maltese Falcon/To Have and Have Not/The Big Sleep/The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) Double Indemnity (Universal Legacy Series) The Postman Always Rings Twice Chinatown (Special Collector's Edition)"
A Complex and Absorbing Thriller!
Mark Twain | 05/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Manohla Dargis, a film critic for The New York Times and former editor for the L.A. Weekly film section, presented L.A. Confidential, one of her favorite movies, for the Cal State Northridge Cinemateque Critics Series, where I saw this film a few weeks ago. The film was followed by an insightful Q & A between Dargis and David Kipen, a book critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, and continued with answers to questions from members of the audience.
As mentioned by Dargis, L.A. Confidential was released in 1997 to huge critical acclaim. It went on to be nominated for nine Academy Awards and is now considered a key film for the 90s. In fact, in answer to a question from an audience member, Dargis feels that had Titanic been released another year, L.A. Confidential would have garnered all the major awards of 1997. Although it didn't, it is still widely regarded as one of the best movies of that year.
Based on the novel by James Ellroy, the film is a dark and gritty noir set in 1950s Los Angeles and deals with police corruption and Hollywood sleaze. The seemingly idyllic Los Angeles of the early 1950s provides the glitzy backdrop for the grisly crime that is the focus of the story: a bloody shotgun slaying of the patrons at an all-night diner. One of the victims was Dick Stensland, a subpar police officer forced into retirement after a drunken brutality incident not long before his death.
Heading the investigation are three very different cops. Stensland's former partner, Wendell "Bud" White (Russell Crowe), a man willing to break the rules to seek justice; Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), an ambitious but naive golden boy who is willing to do almost anything to get ahead; and Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), a slick operator who collaborates with a celebrity magazine to insure high-profile arrests.
What follows is a powerful and stylish mystery with an ever-twisting plot that continually surprises the audience without insulting its intelligence. The compelling blend of L.A. history and pulp fiction makes for an intense and fascinating film that definitely deserved more audience attention than it got.
This is my second viewing of the film, but my first as a student of film. With Dargis' commentary following the feature, I now have a deeper appreciation for this unique motion picture and liked it even more upon second viewing. A rich and complex mystery full of astonishing performances (including an Oscar for Kim Basinger's supporting role), this will definitely be remembered as a landmark film for the 90's. Its comparisons to Chinatown are inevitable. This is modern noir at its finest. "
Very Good Movie, and Well Worth Owning on DVD
Sam Bethune | Lincoln, Nebraska USA | 07/28/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
""LA Confidential" takes detective film noir in a different direction-something I didn't think could be done. Director Curtis Hanson stated that he wanted the focus of this period piece to be on the characters and dialogue rather than the locations, clothing, cars, etc. I think he got it right for the most part, but the cinematography is so spectacular that you can't help but notice the backdrops against which the scenes are set.The acting performances in this picture are for the most part first rate: Guy Pearce plays the ambitious Edmund Exley to perfection, Russell Crowe is superb as tough guy detective Bud White, and Kevin Spacey (one of my favorite actors of all time) turns in a stellar performance as the hip narco detective who also acts as a consultant on a Dragnet-like TV series. Strong performances by James Cromwell, Ron Rifkin, and the ubiquitous David Strathairn round out the picture. Although I liked Kim Basinger, I thought she was cast more for her look than for her acting skills. She played the role of a Veronica-lake lookalike prostitute quite well, but hers didn't look like a performance any other competent actress couldn't have pulled off.The DVD version of this picture is more full of features than any other title I've owned thus far. It includes a documentary about the making of the film which includes cast interviews and clips of Crowe's and Pearce's screen tests. There's also a location map that tells the viewer about each of the major locations where scenes were shot, cast bios, a promo for the soundtrack (featuring some very good early 50's jazz courtesy of Chet Baker and other artists of the era), and the movie can be played with just the soundtrack running. Be warned-the features that come in the DVD version take more time to watch as the movie. But it's well worth the time! "LA Confidential" sets a high standard in terms of what studios should include in DVD's of their pictures. Are you paying attention, Hollywood?"
NEW VERSION DVD review....
Richardson | Sunny California USA | 09/21/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rather than review this amazing modern Noir...I just want to say..BUY this new version...it looks fabulous and the bonus features are PLENTIFUL and very meaty with content and the good news is they ALSO have brought over the features from the first release allowing all of us to dump that one and that isn't always the case. They also have a nearly 1 hr TV movie/pilot called LA CONFIDENTIAL starring Keifer Sutherland which is fun. There is also a bonus CD disc of music which is icing on the cake. I just spent a few hours watching all the bonus features and will absolutely watch them again ( a rarity) and as I said..the movie never looked better..I've only checked out a bit of the commentary which has a staggering number of contributors and should make another viewing of the movie with it running a fun trip indeed. WB does it well when they re-issue and not just with the sexy new cover image ..this baby got a complete overhaul...
Dark Noir in Bright Daylight
Bobby Underwood | Manly NSW, Australia | 06/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This was the best film made in '97 but like Polanski's "Chinatown" it is destined to become one of the finest movies not to take the Oscar home. Curtis Hanson took James Ellroy's novel, a book many doubted could be translated to the film medium, and co-wrote one of the finest adapted screenplays ever done. He then brought on board a couple of Aussie unknowns, a gorgeous star who had never lived up to her potential, added perhaps the finest actor working today, and began filming one of the darkest noir films of all time, in sun drenched daylight.
The end result is a dark and twisted tale of personal redemption told against the backdrop of the bright lights and sunshine of Hollywood in the early 1950's. Hanson contrasts the brightly lit exteriors with the dark storyline of police corruption and Hollywood decadence. This is a movie about facade, not just Hollywood's but our own personal facade as well.
Russell Crowe became a star as Detective Bud White, a tough cop willing to do whatever is necessary, something the political up and comer Guy Pearce finds archaic about the force and wants to change. What may stop him from doing so is his investigation of the murder of several people at "The Night Owl" cafe, one of whom is Crowe's partner, who recently "retired" after a well publicized jail brawl christened "Bloody Christmas" by the papers.
Crowe and Pearce come at this from different angles but the road for both leads right to beautiful Kim Basinger and a millionaire in the lush Hollywood hills played by David Strathairn. There is a reason Basinger looks a little like Veronica Lake the first time we see her in this film; she's supposed to. Hollywood legend has it that a string of expensive call girls were cut to look like stars during the 1940's and early 1950's and Hanson has made this darker side of Hollywood part of the story. Basinger is one of the lucky ones; close enough to the actual look of Veronica Lake not to have been cut on.
Crowe falls for the real girl inside Basinger, but in spite of her opulent lifestyle, her low self-esteem comes to the forefront when she sleeps with Pearce in an attempt to "help" Crowe. We realize as she nearly destroys Crowe by doing so that she perceives herself as a whore on the inside, beneath the facade. Her logic is as twisted and tainted as the corruption Crowe and Pierce are about to uncover as they follow the trail linking Basinger's boss Strathairn to the Night Owl killings and the vice surrounding them on every side.
Basinger may have garnered the Oscar for her role, but Crowe's performance as the tough cop with some soft spots after all is something you'll always remember. The coolest job done here, however, is by Kevin Spacey. Hanson told him before filming began to think Dean Martin and he'd have it down pat. Spacey did just that, playing the ultra cool cop, the one in the tabloids for his Hollywood connections. He is a consultant on the TV show "Badge of Honor" (think Dragnet) and is hooked up with slimy but likeable Danny DeVito, a writer for a Hollywood tabloid. Spacey grabs the spotlight and DeVito gets the headlines as Spacy collars Hollywood stars in compromising situations, DeVito's camera flashing.
Spacey seemingly has it all, but like the rest of this film, it is just a facade. While sitting in a bar listening to Dean Martin in the background he looks up into the mirror behind the counter and doesn't like what is staring back at him. He has all the tools to be a great cop but he knows he has sold his soul for the fifty in front of him. He becomes involved in the case because of a murder in a hotel room he feels responsible for that leads right back to the Night Owl, and hooks up with Pearce to redeem his soul. You will never forget the name "Rollo Tomasi" or what it means for Pearce, and ultimately Spacey in this film.
Adding to the atmosphere more than just a little is the score by Jerry Goldsmith, his finest work since "Chinatown" and just as haunting. It does more than help enhance the atmosphere, it truly is the atmosphere of this one of a kind masterpiece. This film has the kind of ending dreams are made of and someone (I won't give it away) holding up their badge to the oncoming rush of cop cars in the Hollywood hills at night is a scene you'll never forget.
There is not a bad performance in this film. It is complex and riveting. If you haven't seen this before, don't rent it, buy it. You'll watch it over and over. But don't tell anyone. This is Off the Record, On the QT, and Very Hush Hush!"