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This film was the big sensation of 1997. Re-watching it 22 years later with more of a jaundiced eye, I have to say that it still holds up pretty well.
_LA Confiedntial_ replicates 50’s noir cinema successfully, except that it’s in color (but it’s very 50’s looking color, a nice detail), and it includes the requisite 90’s nudity, profanity, and violence that was forbidden in those movies. A lot of the dialogue sounds like it came from a 50’s _Dragnet_ episode, but that’s appropriate.
The performances by Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Danny DeVito, and James Cromwell, as well as most of the supporting cast, are convincing. I’m leaving out Kim Basinger, who plays a blonde bimbo (every 50’s noir movie has to have one) who is not greatly integral to the story, just there for sex appeal. Let’s face it: She didn’t get famous because of her brilliant acting.
I can’t help but wonder if, in the 50’s, all cops beat witnesses and suspects and stuck pistols in their mouths to get information. I’m sure it happened at times, but in this film, it’s the norm. Hollywood embellishment, perhaps. I haven’t read James Ellroy’s novel, so I can’t really say. But bad guys are bad guys, and it’s fun to watch them get their asses kicked.
The multiple plots intertwine without confusing the viewer, and they come together nicely.
The entire agenda of the film is about exploring the sleaze, political corruption, and immorality that lies beneath the superficiality and glamour of L.A. That is exactly what noir writers like Chandler, Hammett and others were all about. In various ways, this film pays respect to them all.
With all of its affectations, this film is like watching a cartoon. But a damn good one.
LA Confidential is an amazing modern Film Noir. It captures the best elements of the original genre. It covers three policeman and a prostitute who represents different aspect of the problems with Los Angeles in the 1950s when the city symbolized the California Dream. That’s the theme of the film, the corruption and violence of the City of the Angels.
The four main characters are Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe), Officer Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), Lieutenant Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), and Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger). White was a violent cop who believed there was nothing wrong with abusing suspects as shown by his first scene where he beats up a man who was beating his wife. Vincennes was wrapped up in the fame of Hollywood to the detriment of his job. He was a consultant on a TV show Badge of Honor and thought that would lead him into the industry. He was also corrupt and took bribes from Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) to arrest celebrities so that Hudgens could write about them in his tabloid. Exley was self-centered and ambitious and would do anything to rise up the ranks. When some Mexicans were arrested and beaten by the cops he ratted on them so that he could get a promotion to be a lieutenant and detective. Finally, Lynn Bracken moved from Arizona to Los Angeles in the hopes of getting into the movies. When that failed she became a prostitute. She symbolized the lost dreams of thousands who came to the city and the limited opportunities for women after World War II when they were expected to just be housewives and not strive for more. All of these characters would come together and seek redemption for their personal sins to solve a crime involving the powerful in LA.
The movie touched on many of the tropes of classic Film Noir. The dangerous woman aka the Femme Fatale was Bracken. The main character up against an impenetrable system is portrayed by three policeman investigating their case. Noir also liked to focus upon the underbelly of America and the three cops find out there is a racket involving prostitution, organized crime, drugs, and land development in Los Angeles. The ending is also very interesting because it showed that those who ran LA were more interested in protecting their image than actually exposing the crimes and misdemeanors of the city, another common theme of Noir.
Overall, the movie had great characters. A very engaging story that had twists and turns, plus some action to boot. There have been many attempts at Noirs since its heyday in the 1940s and 50s with very uneven results. LA Confidential stands head and shoulders above all of those as a standout release.
Three cops, a call girl, a mysterious millionaire, a tabloid journalist fuel a labyrinthine plot rife with mystery, ambition, romance and humor.
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