Intertwining the stories and cases of three LA Cops while also managing to focus on both the glamour and seedier side of 1950s L.A., L.A. Confidential is a fantastic and gripping neo-Noir thriller set towards the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age. With Micky Cohen in jail, L.A. finds itself free of Organised Crime and the LAPD wants to keep it that way. On the front line are three very different Detectives; the brutish Bud White (Russell Crowe), book smart and career orientated Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) and Jack ‘Hollywood Jack’ Vincennes (Kevin Spacey). The three inhabit different worlds within the same department and a run in between White and Exley causes mass tension amongst the whole of the force. A murder at the Night Owl Café one evening sparks an investigation which involves all three officers, corruption, racism, organised crime, prostitution, glitz, glamour and grime.
I saw L.A. Confidential several years ago and it didn’t really have an impact on me. I can only assume I saw it too young because yesterday I saw it again and thought it was spectacular. Director Curtis Hansen and Cinematographer Dante Spinotti create a realistic version of L.A. full of bright, soft light and period detail but the film avoids going for an all out Noir feel and incorporates more of a modern feel in amongst its 50s setting. The setting and fantastic design are a mere backdrop however for what is essentially a character study. The film may look beautiful but it is in its characters where it truly shines.
The plot is outstanding and manages to fuse many different areas and themes associated with L.A. without pushing too much in the face of the audience. There is always a sense of an underlying racism within the LAPD, something which continued to bubble until the 1990s. It also skirts around the celebrity side of L.A. in part to Danny DeVito’s superb depiction of a tabloid magazine journalist. Organised Crime is at the forefront of the story and the Police’s fervour for cover ups is also explored. Despite the many and varying themes and avenues explored, it never became too much and you never felt as though something was forgotten about. I watched with a smile on my face as the plot unfolded and things began to fall into place. Despite seeing it years ago I couldn’t remember the ending and loved the joining of forces which comes late on.
The characters are fantastic and the acting is great too. Antipodeans Crowe and Pearce were relatively unknown in North America before the film so their casting raised a few eyebrows at the studio but both inhabit their roles well. I really enjoyed Kevin Space’s interpretation of a playboy Hollywood cop who has an inflated ego and DeVito is terrific as the journalist/narrator. Kim Basinger won an Oscar for her portrayal of a glamorous prostitute who is part of a harem given plastic surgery to look like Hollywood pin ups. She is really good but I was surprised that she won an Oscar. James Cromwell rounds out a talented cast as the Police Captain in charge of keeping the mob out of the city and is very good but early on is lumbered with quite a lot of exposition dialogue.
The Direction and design are both stand outs as is the script. The actors feel like they’re all on the same page and the score works well with the cinematography. There was little if anything to dislike about L.A. Confidential. It had enough of a Noir element to fit in with its time period but also features a lot of modern touches which makes it irresistible to modern audiences.