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L.A. Confidential (1997)

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Score: 10/10

Genre: Crime Drama and Mystery Running Time: 2 hrs. 18 min.

Release Date: September 19th, 1997 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Curtis Hanson Actors: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, Ron Rifkin, Graham Beckel

A

brilliantly sinuous plot full of richly developed antiheroes, “usual suspects,” calculating villains, and damsels in distress makes “L.A. Confidential” one of the greatest murder/mystery pictures of its time. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (1997), this masterwork of cover-ups, blackmail, organized crime, and seedy personas and locales is a top-notch technical and artistic endeavor, exploring 1950s political and judicial venality through three distinct viewpoints on diametrically opposing interpretations of legality. It’s also one of the last great American films noir, boasting an expert combination of throwbacks to traditional cinematographic and storytelling approaches and a modernized sensibility from edgy, contemporary filmmakers.

Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe) is the no-nonsense, tough-as-nails flatfoot who uses his muscles to exact “justice” for sketchy police captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). In White’s own words, he’s “the guy they bring in to scare the other guys shitless.” Detective Sergeant Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is the skeptical one, who has given up hope on real justness and opts to deal in underhanded setups for profitable publicity with Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), the local paparazzi owner of the sleazy “Hush-Hush” magazine (“Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush”). Jack is also the consultant for a cop drama television show called “Badge of Honor,” a stage where politics and promotion further collide. And Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce), who uses the “Bloody Christmas” jail riot to advance his rank, is the straight-laced golden boy for the police department; he’s willing to sell out everyone and everything to get ahead – except his own faulty ideals on equity.

After unruly Detective Stensland (Graham Beckel) is suspended for inciting the skirmish at the police department on Christmas Eve, he turns up dead at the local Nite Owl diner – along with several other random patrons and a hooker who worked for suspicious millionaire Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn). White gets caught up with another of Patchett’s prostitutes, the composed Lynn (Kim Basinger), while Exley heads up the investigation for the Nite Owl murders. Although the case is initially closed when three colored miscreants are pinned for the homicides, nothing seems to add up. So White digs deeper using his signature brand of brawn, while Exley searches for hard evidence. As bodies continue to accrue and the sleuths move closer to the truth, the layers of corruption, deceit, and violence skyrocket into an explosive finale at the pivotal Victory Motel.

A simply stunning score by Jerry Goldsmith accents every nail-biting scene, enhancing the tension and suspense that snowball as motives are unearthed. The cinematography is also noteworthy, as it brings this noirish yarn to vivid life, aiding in several of the most intense action sequences of any police procedural. Drugs, sex, money, power, extortion, racketeering, and every other element audiences have come to expect from solid detective thrillers combine in an intelligent plot that is so labyrinthine it demands to be seen more than once. Based on the detail-heavy, hardboiled story by James Ellroy, which has been tightened up for the screen, “L.A. Confidential” is solid entertainment, from its stellar acting to its keen plotting to its authentic art direction/set decoration, rightfully earning Oscar wins for Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger) and Best Adapted Screenplay (from writer/director Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland).

– Mike Massie

 



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