LA Confidential (18)

Directed by Curtis Hanson
Starring Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, Kim Basinger

First off, I have never read ANY James Ellroy novels. They are apparently a facinating look at the LA crime scene, but this is certainly a film worth seeing. It is set in the 1950s when Hollywood gossip and Police corruption were rife in LA. The film follows four policemen; Ed Exley(Pearce), a slightly slimy and ambitious but basically upstanding young cop, Bud White(Crowe), a ruthless and seemingly vicious hard man. Jack Vincennes(Spacey) is a police consultant on a Dragnet type tv show, and Captain Dudley Smith(Cromwell), an old style Irish cop. The film opens with all four men playing their roles in a vicious police attack on a group of Mexican inmates, and the aftermath. We then move onto a shockingly brutal massacre at a coffee house that is the impetous for the rest of the film's action.
There are many things to admire in this gripping thriller, not least the clever script that keeps us guessing superbly. Just when you think you have pigeonholed a character, our perception is altered as we learn more about the men. The good guys might not be so good, and the bad guys not so bad. This excellent characterization is very raer in Hollywood movies that are often wafer thin when it comes to plot. LA Confidential also benefits from a very good main and supporting cast. The four lead men are excellent. Little known Antipodeans Crowe and Pearce are perfect and the directors choice because the audience does not arrive with any preconceived notions about them. I am a bit Russell Crowe fan since The Quick and the Dead. He has a toughness, but also integrity that makes him perfect for the role of the violent but not irredeemable Bud White. He can do menace, but there is a certain soulfulness in his eyes that makes you warm to him- despite that crew cut! His scenes with Basinger are touching if just a tad sentimental. Of course, there has to be a reason for his viciusness.
UK fans know Guy Pearce from Neighbours, but also his campy- and daring turn in Pricilla: Queen of the Desert. He is a revelation here. His character is a basically good man who believes in justice, but is not adverse to playing the system fot his own gain. Pearce is a little bland, but this is just right for the character. Is he really the only cop that would rebel against a mass police brutality incident though? Kevin Spacey has become one of the more reliable actors around. He gets to be his usual slighlty dodgy screen persona, but with a little more integrity. James Cromwell is that nice farmer Hoggett from Babe, but succeeds in surprising you- say no more or I will spoil it.
Added to this excellent main cast, the ever wonderful DeVito plays sleazy as only he can, Kim Basinger is a perfect screen siren, a Veronica Lake lookalike, with not the greatest role, but Basinger is very much like the classic film star here. Honourable mention too to one of my favourite actors David Strathairn as a dodgy underworld crook.
The film looks great- it is a mixture of film noir and Tarentino. Atmosphere, and labyrinthian plot which keeps you on your toes, but also a certain hipness, and striking use of bright daylight as well as nighttime shoots, not forgetting the current vogue for vicious violence. Setting the film during the height of the post war movie boom is a good move. There is a glamour and style that is not present now, although the issue of police corruption is still a very relevant one.
Do see this film. It's main strength is its story and script- not sure if that is down to Elroy or the writers, the facinating characters and the atmosphere director Hanson creates. One of the best films of the year. 9/10.

October 1997

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