US Release Date: 09-19-1997
Directed by: Curtis Hanson
- Kevin Spacey, as
- Sgt. Jack Vincennes
- Russell Crowe, as
- Officer Wendell 'Bud' White
- Guy Pearce, as
- Det. Lt. Edmund Jennings Exley
- James Cromwell, as
- Capt. Dudley Liam Smith
- Kim Basinger, as
- Lynn Bracken
- Danny DeVito, as
- Sid Hudgens
- David Strathairn, as
- Pierce Morehouse Patchett
- Ron Rifkin, as
- Dist. Atty. Ellis Loew
- Matt McCoy, as
- Brett Chase
- Simon Baker as
- Matt Reynolds
Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce in L.A. Confidential.
Based on the James Ellroy novel, L. A. Confidential shows the sleazy side of Hollywood in the 1950's. The movie condenses the book down from years to days but all of the great characters and sleazy mystery is still intact.
L.A. Confidential tells the story of three LAPD cops who are investigating a multiple homicide. Ed Exley, is a by the book, kiss ass who is looking for a promotion. Bud White is a tough, prone to violent veteran who bends the rules to dispense his own justice. Jack Vincennes enjoys mixing with celebrities, dressing well and making a quick buck.
Although the plot has some twists and turns, it is the atmosphere and the supporting characters that help this movie succeed so well. Bassinger won an Oscar for her role as a Veronica Lake look-a-like prostitute name Lynn. Danny Devito steals many scenes as a tabloid writer constantly on the look for dirt on celebrities. His catchphrase is, "Off the record, on the QT, and very hush hush."
Like all good films, L. A. Confidential has some great lines. One of my favorite's is when White falls for Lynn. "I'd like to see you again." He states. "Are you asking me for a date or an appointment?" she asks. Another line that you are not likely to hear too often comes from a coroner who just looked at the body of a male prostitute, "Stomach of the week. Unemployed actor had frankfurter, french fries, alcohol, and sperm. Hell of a last supper, don't you think?"
The film contains some funny moments as well as some violent ones. At one point Exley is trying to hard nose a mobster in a restaurant. He calls the girl with him a "Hooker who is cut to look like Lana Turner." The girl gets noticeably pissed. Vincennes interrupts to inform him that she is in fact Lana Turner. The last part of the film is a very tense shootout. In most movies you can guess who will live and who won't. L.A Confidential is directed in a way that you are never sure whose number may be up.
L.A Confidential is the greatest film noir ever made!
Kevin Spacey in L. A. Confidential.
L.A. Confidential was nominated for 9 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography and Best Supporting Actress. It deserved all of its nominations, but it only won 2 Oscars that year, taking home the statues for screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. Unfortunately for its award chances it ran smack into a movie bigger than an iceberg in the form of Titanic. Any other year and surely it would have won Best Picture. It's one of the very few films to have been named the Best Picture of the Year by the National Society of Film Critics, The Board of Review, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association and New York Film Critics Circle. It was also a box office success. Although it came nowhere near Titanic's success, it did take in over $125 million worldwide on a budget of just $35 million. It also made household names of Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe.
It's not just the timespan that is condensed from the book, as Eric indicated (although it's down from years to months, not days), but also the storylines were wisely trimmed to only include the three main characters. Where the book had about eight different storylines and is brilliant in its own right, scriptwriters Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson removed every scene that doesn't contain either Exley (Pearce), White (Crowe) or Vincennes (Spacey). The plot is filled with intricacies and double-crosses and it rewards attention, but keeping the focus on those three very different characters, keeps it all in focus.
The look of the film is terrific and is filled with period details. The clothes, the cars, sets and dialogue all weave together to form a great background tapestry to the story. They don't get in the way of the plot or take center stage, but they enhance the action greatly by transporting you back in time to L.A. of the 1950s. Downton Abbey creator, Julian Fellowes, recently said in an interview that Americans can't do period drama, but Americans certainly managed it here, even if two of the leads aren't American.
Although Basinger was the only acting nominee, the entire cast is great. It's no wonder that Crowe was the breakout star from the film. His Bud White is a simmering cauldron who can barely keep his lid on. Exley and Vincennes both start a little morally grey, but White, with his predilection to defend women is blunt, but honorable according to his own code.
With its gripping story, intense performances and high production values, L.A. Confidential remains a classic. If anything, I've come to appreciate it more over the years since its release. The same cannot be said of Titanic, which seems to drop in my estimation with each passing year. Perhaps Titanic was simply too successful at the time of its release and only has one way to go. In any case, looking back now, I'm not so sure the best movie won.
Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential.
The time and place –Hollywood in the early 1950s– is superbly recreated but it is the central mystery, and how it affects the relationships of these three very different cops, that makes the movie great. I agree the entire cast is wonderful. There isn't a bad performance in the bunch. Although to be honest I was less impressed with Kim Basinger this time around. In my memory her part was bigger than it actually is. There's no denying she is stunningly beautiful here (see photo).
The story arc between officers Exley and White is the most fascinating aspect of the movie. They are opposites in many ways but both of them are excellent police officers. And neither of them is what you at first expect them to be. Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce were both perfectly cast.
White, it turns out, is much more than mere muscle. He may not be the most widely read person on the force but he understands how to conduct an investigation. He's smart enough to recognize a clue when he sees it and he possesses good instincts. Exley's first impression is that he is an arrogant know-it-all egghead who goes by the book and is trying to measure up to his father's stellar career in law enforcement. Whereas White is smarter than you think he is, Exley is braver than expected. By the end of the story they've been through fire together and emerged on the other side having each earned the other man's respect and trust.
A prostitution ring of women cut to look like actual movie stars was long rumored to exist in Hollywood. It wasn't an idea James Ellroy created. Mickey Rooney made a passing reference to a brothel called The T and M Studio, where the hookers were movie star lookalikes, in his autobiography. Screenwriter Garson Kanin was more explicit in his memoirs. He described a visit to a house of prostitution called Mae's, where the madam dressed as Mae West and her girls imitated the likes of Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard, Marlene Dietrich, Ginger Rogers and others.
L.A. Confidential is that rare movie that gets everything right. It is gorgeous to look at, very evocative of its time era, has a talented cast, features a compelling central mystery being solved by interesting and likable characters that evolve over the course of the movie. And on top of all that it has one hell of a brilliant script.
Photos © Copyright Warner Bros. (1997)