Movie Project #14: L.A. Confidential [1997]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

L.A. Confidential [1997]

L.A. Confidential [1997]
Directors: Curtis Hanson
Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery
Language: English
Country: USA

When I played through the fantastic LA Noire video game this summer, I could not help but get swept into the dark and seedy world of 1940’s Los Angeles. Many, many articles and reviews on the game mentioned its influences: old school Film Noir, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett novels, and perhaps the biggest, L.A. Confidential. I was ecstatic to finally see this 1997 modern noir title.

Set in 1950s Los Angeles, L.A. Confidential revolves around three officers in the LAPD. There’s Bud White (Russell Crowe), a quick-tempered cop who does anything to punish woman-beaters. There’s Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), a rookie officer who wants to do everything by the book and refuses to break the law to provide justice. Naturally, this makes him an outcast in the department. There’s Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), a narcotics detective who is in cahoots with Hush-Hush tabloid magazine editor Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito). His side “job” is arresting celebrities and letting Sid take photos of them caught in the act.

L.A. Confidential [1997]

These three men become intertwined in a web of corruption, deceit and lies within the police department, all of which happens after a coffee shop massacre leaves six people dead, including a crooked police officer. So many subplots, characters and areas are brought up throughout the film’s 138 minute runtime, but this is expertly manipulated by director Curtis Hanson in a way that brings everything together. It really is fascinating how the movie brings in so many different details, yet is able to have everything make sense in the end.

There are two other major players in the movie who must be mentioned. Dudley Smith (the always excellent James Cromwell) is the leader of the police department. He has a tendency to call his men “good lads” and encourages them to twist the law in order to deliver justice. Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) is the female of choice, a Veronica Lake look-alike hooker who is dragged into the mess due to the coffee shop death of a fellow Hollywood starlet-imposter prostitute.

L.A. Confidential [1997]

There is so much to like about L.A. Confidential. The acting is phenomenal, with what is truly an amazing cast. So many big names, all of whom are deserving of their recognition from this film. Guy Pearce in particular stood out to me, as he effortlessly succeeds in playing a sniveling little snitch who crawls under your skin. Yet by the end of the movie, his performance led me to gain a new-found respect for his character. Maybe there is some merit in playing by the rules?

Not once did L.A. Confidential feel tedious. The movie runs at a brisk pace with a lot of thrilling moments. The dialogue is sharp, the story elegant, and the characters are terrific. This is everything I could have hoped for in a modern noir, and as it stands right now, this is my favorite movie I have seen so far in this project. Simply amazing.


16 thoughts on “Movie Project #14: L.A. Confidential [1997]

  1. Dan says:

    This has to be one of the best films of the 1990s. A brilliant film. I must get this on DVD or blu-ray…just realised I don’t have it in my collection.

  2. Castor says:

    One of my favorite film of all-time. I love how retro the movie feels and how much care is taken with all the characters arcs. Fantastic film that should won the Oscar over Titanic.

    • Eric says:

      I’m right there with you — this is much more deserving than Titanic. And you’re right, the attention to detail is fantastic. I can’t recall any loose ends, really.

  3. rtm says:

    Woo hoo!! 10 out of 10 is right, man! This film is BRILLIANT, I can’t find any darn thing wrong with it, the performances, the story, suspense, costume, cinematography, everything. Plus it’s got TWO of Aussie’s brightest thespians convincingly play American cops. All around awesome!

  4. Mark Walker says:

    Excellent review Eric. I include this in my personal top ten. I’m a big fan of writer James Ellroy and this adaptation is spot on. I’d even go as far to say that it’s better than Chinatown. Oh, and I love the game L.A. Noir as well. It felt like living during these times.

    • Eric says:

      Hi Mark, thanks so much for the kind words. I would really like to read some of Ellroy’s work, especially since I loved the hell out of this movie. It still stands out as my favorite from my two projects, and I’m probably due to revisit it soon. Glad to hear you’re a big fan as well!

      • Mark Walker says:

        This was the third part of a quartet of books by Ellroy, so if your thinking of delving into his stuff, check out the fourth book “White Jazz”. It’s not really a sequel, all four of the books stand on there own but some characters do reappear. White Jazz is superb though and also American Tabloid is worth a look.

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