L.A. Confidential * * * * *
Director: Curtis Hanson.
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland, Curtis Hanson.
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Graham Beckel, Brenda Bakke, Paul Guilfoyle, Ron Rifkin, Matt Malloy, Simon Baker.
James Ellroy is one of the finest of hard-boiled crime writers. For those not familiar, check out his “L.A. Quartet“; four novels, that delve into the seedy and corrupt world of the Los Angeles police force in the 1950’s. This film is actually based on the third novel in the series and director/screenwriters Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland have done a marvellous job in adapting Ellroy’s convoluted narratives and staccato writing.
L.A. in the 50’s is rife with organised crime and corruption in the police force. Both intertwine in the glitz and glamour of the booming Hollywood movie business. The story follows the path of three very different police detectives. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) – the suave and ambitious type with an eye on stardom for himself. Bud White (Russel Crowe) – the brutal strong arm who will do anything to achieve his form of justice and rookie Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) – who does everything by the book and believes in law and order. A late night shooting in a coffee shop, which leaves one policeman dead brings these three detectives together in an elaborate plot involving corrupt politicians, prostitutes made to look like movie stars, gangster Mickey Cohen and sleazy tabloid journalists.
First of all, where this film succeeds – in it’s difficult adaptation – is capturing the mood and setting. Not since Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” in 1974 has this been achieved. The music by Jerry Goldsmith taps into film-noir with a seedy jazz score, while Dante Spinotti’s rich cinematography perfectly captures the infancy of the city of Los Angeles, before it’s economical boom. It was a city that could make or break a person, with corruption at every corner. This rich attention to detail, is also captured by some outstanding performances. Kim Basinger won a supporting actress award but it’s Spacey, Pearce and particularly Crowe that own this film. Their performances have seldom been better. The story itself can simply be described as labyrinthine. There are so many facets that’s it’s hard to keep up. It demands your attention and commitment but it also rewards. Credit must go to Curtis Hanson, who does an excellent job in handling all the narrative arcs and teasingly fitting all the pieces together. This is filmmaking of the very highest standard.
An absolutely enthralling film, that’s so vivid and compelling that fans of the genre should not ignore.
Included in My Top Ten films.