I hadn’t seen this film in many years, and all I remembered about it were the actors. It went something like this; “Hey, it’s the guy from The Time Machine, Maximus from Gladiator and the Alien from K-PAX”…I’m not joking, that’s how I saw it when I was younger. Anyway, It was going to be part of Noirvember until I watched the first five minutes and realised that I had a Christmas movie on my hands. So I delayed it, and watched it later – and today we’re going to talk about it. A movie set at Christmas time, or at least in Act One – this is LA Confidential.
Set in Los Angeles, USA in 1953/54, our story revolves around three Detectives in the LAPD: Ed Exley (played by Guy Pearce), Wendell “Bud” White (Russell Crowe) and Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) – all of whom are at different stages in their careers, and with different motives. We begin our film with the backstory of Los Angeles itself, or more specifically the aesthetic impact it exuded towards the rest of the world. As presented by independent reporter Sid Hudgens (played by Danny Devito). First it was gold fever, and now decades later it’s all about being a paradise on earth…with some exceptions.
The scene is set when crime boss Mickey Cohen is arrested for tax invasion, and then the status quo is presented to us; Ed Exley is an up-and-coming policeman who dreams of being a Detective like his legendary father, but is hated by the rest of the precinct. Bud is a corrupt plain-clothes detective with a heart – the people who get it worst from him are men who physically abuse women, including the one he apprehends on Christmas Eve (See? Christmas!). Lastly, there’s Jack, a narcotics detective who loves the attention and is also a technical advisor for the TV show Badge Of Honor – He is by far the most corrupt of the three men and the one with, perhaps, the most to lose…and also the one who has lost his way, making him the most complicated of the three. However the reputation of the LAPD takes a turn for the worst. A few reporters follow some officers down to the Jail to find Bud’s partner, Dick Stensland, along with a few other policemen, drunk, and brawling with some Mexicans like it was a bad interrogation. Photos were taken, and “Bloody Christmas” makes the headlines. Dick is suspended, Jack is switched from Narcotics to Vice, and Exley is promoted, to the deter of the other detectives. Everything seems normal again, until the death of a Detective in the Nite Owl Cafe take all three Detectives down a very rotten rabbit hole.
Now to follow the blood trail to the truth:
The acting in LA Confidential was among the best in its day and still holds up as among the best overall performances by such a large group of well known actors. Today it has become a who’s who of a by-gone era, and everybody went all out in their performances. Even though he had done several films in America by this time – this is the film that made Russell Crowe’s name in Hollywood. It was also Kim Basinger’s first film in three years, and she’s fantastic here. James Cromwell is fantastic as the Irish-American Commissioner Dudley Smith (and the fact that he’s over 200cm tall and towers over everyone, he’s quite the presence). Kevin Spacey, obviously one of the most sought-out stars of this time (despite everything that’s transpired over the last few years) was also brilliant in this film. Guy Pearce performance really stands out among the rest, and I’ll get to that while talking about characters.
The characters are…tremendous. What I like is how these cops are very different, and yet very similar because you’re witnessing what are essentially the same cop at different points in his career. Exley is the freshman – though he’s 30 years old, he’s practically a boy among grizzled veterans, and has the cleanest motives among the rest. Bud still maintains a clean-cut image (to a degree), but is clearly hardened when he, at some point, came to terms with using corrupt methods (violence in particular) to get the results that let him sleep at night (methods he learned from Dick). For Jack, it’s practically a game at this point – He has friends in lots of places and Sid Hudgens works well in giving him a good public image. But at some point he started to take liberties that go beyond Bud – though he works narcotics, he keeps some of the drugs/money for himself, and it could be argued that he is “stage three” if Bud is ‘two’ and Exley is “one”. As the film progresses, you’ll find out who “stage four” are. Which leads to a fantastic dilemma by the final act, as we now talk about story.
The Story is among the best that you’ll find, as it successfully manages to condense three novels into about two hours and twenty minutes of film. Not only is it tight, but it manages to be told with three main characters rather than one and pulls it off extremely well. There are several themes that prevail throughout the narrative. As it’s set in the 1950s, it can get pretty racist and homophobic (especially when homosexuality could be used as blackmail and non-whites become fall-guys for various difficult cases) – which then brings up another theme: Closure. Closure is a strong one throughout this film, whether symbolically or literally. The end results are wanted by everyone, even if it leads to a lot of soiled hands. And the main theme, obviously, and it permeates throughout every character at different stages; Corruption. Corruption in Justice. Corruption in Results. The desired Narrative chosen over the truth.
The Art Design and Cinematography were designed in such a way that it felt like a modern movie and not a nostalgia piece, which I thought was interesting. Today there’s no doubt that I’m watching a ’90s movie. But even now it’s really well presented. One design flaw that can be mentioned though – is the fact that nobody wears a fedora. This was all designed so that it didn’t look like the characters were in costume. But in reality, every man wore a fedora, especially in the winter. Special effects were entirely practical, with emphasis mostly on using blood. It manages to not be too gory, and in the process, doesn’t take away from the story being told.
The Music was by Jerry Goldsmith…consider what else he has done: Planet Of The Apes, Chinatown, The Omen, Alien, Rambo, and Total Recall. This is just another fantastic score to his name – which is saying it lightly. The man knew how to make a really, really, good, menacing and dangerous Noir score with just brass, drums, strings and piano.
Would I recommend L.A. Confidential? Yes! Absolutely! In my opinion it’s among the greatest films ever made because nearly everything makes sense. Everything clicked, and yet it kept you guessing when you watched it first time (and many years later). Well written, well acted, well presented and with a great sound. It might not be your idea of a Christmas Movie, but for some, neither was Die Hard.
Special Effects: ****3/4