L.A. Confidential

Tippy has so far only unlocked the goblin. He's shit.

Released in 1997, certified UK-18. Reviewed on 04 Dec 2004 by Craig Eastman
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Los Angeles, the 50s. Nowhere on Earth so glamorous and, according to novelist James Ellroy, nowhere on Earth so corrupt. His seamy little potboiler L.A. Confidential is here given full treatment by the town it loves to hate, blossoming under the direction of Curtis Hanson from potentially hackneyed cop drama to a thing of immense atmospheric beauty. No surprise, then, that this little stick of dynamite frequently makes it into the top 100 lists of critics far and wide.

Propelled along narratively by Danny DeVito's character Sid Hudgens' enthusiastic readings from his L.A. scandal rag Hush Hush Magazine, Confidential wastes little time in precisely and effectively setting up both it's locale and the main police players in what is to become a deadly game of departmental deception. Meet Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), an Xth generation cop living in the shadow of his dead father's legend and the first in his line to stick strictly to the book. Then there's Bud White (Russell Crowe in his breakthrough performance), a rather "passionate" character whose love for the booze is matched only by his hatred of woman-beaters. Finally there's Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey riding high on the post-Suspects wave), a flambuoyant but shrewd operator who has a cushy little sideline as technical adviser on popular TV cop show Badge Of Honour.

It's not long before we've established the key relationships between Vincennes as Hudgens' inside man, Exley and White as a pair feuding after the former's promotion-oriented efforts lead to the forced retirement of the latter's partner Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel), and James Cromwell's overlording Captain Dudley Smith as the main man to be feared by all and sundry within the local police division. All these charcters are then thrust together when White's former sidekick is one of six people shotgunned into oblivion in a massacre at a local coffee shop. In the time-honoured tradition of such shenanigans, not everything is as it first appears, and the three unorthodox detectives are soon unravelling a heinous web of lies and set-ups that eventually leads to...well, I wouldn't want to spoil anything, would I?

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This is one of those movies that came from out of the left field and stunned everyone with it's consumate, well-rounded developement of plot and character, as well as boasting an intriguing storyline, deft direction and a slew of top-notch performances. It certainly proved to be quite a springboard for all involved, granting both Guy Pearce and, arguably more successfully, Russell Crowe their much-deserved shots at the big time. Pearce is excellent as Exley, projecting a bookish weakness to his fellow officers yet proving to be a shrewd and ruthless career operator when he has the Commissioner's ear. Little need be said of Crowe, who pretty much steals the show as White, brimming with thinly-veiled temper and granting the movie it's best scene as he "interrogates" a suspected rapist with a finely distilled blend of volcanic rage and non-consenting russian roulette.

Confidential didn't exactly take the edge off Spacey's meteoric career progression either, helping him pick up all number of awards and nominations along with his co-stars. His portrayal of Vincennes as a seemingly insidious yet ultimately decent individual is easily among his most successful roles to date, with his love of the cop's life finally (tragically) reclaiming Jack from the grasp of fame and glamour as a televisual pundit. Hell, even screenwriter Brian Helgeland got famous. It was off the back of Confidential's success that he landed the gig of directing Mel Gibson in the water-treading Payback (and there's a whooooole other story).

It was, however, Kim Basinger who grabbed the most attention during the post-award honeymoon period, having nabbed herself a Supporting Actress Oscar and a whole lot of the limelight to boot. In the early throes of what would become her separation from hubby Alec Baldwin, Basinger's portrayal of Lynn Bracken, a Hollywood look-alike hooker with a heart of gold, might not have been in all honesty the year's best turn in that category, but it certainly put her waning (or more accurately "waned") career back on the straight and narrow, affording her once more both the credibility and bankability she for so long been sorely lacking.

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It's arguably Hanson who claims the grand prix though, deservedly taking credit for fashioning such a sleek beast from the smallest group of ingredients. His assuredness in handling the movie as a whole is beyond question, but it's the little touches of flair and passion that really make the picture and hurtle the narrative along at such a pace you'll be lucky to even notice that two hours just went missing from your life. Making the most of his leading men's quirks and foibles to push the plot along, most notably Crowe's penchant for borderline psychosis (funny how life mimics art sometimes), the director ensures that not only is the picture artistically and creatively sound, but it's just a damn entertaining movie in it's own right.

L.A. Confidential marks one of those rare occasions where a movie is so comfortably in synch with it's origins it makes you wonder how other directors can fuck these things so royally up. Pulpy and trashy yet at the same time with a raw honesty and even nobility, if this movie had pages you'd most certanly be turning them. Thank heavens then that in the presence of the fourth wall, this is one cast and crew who are more than capable of keeping pace and turning them for you. Thank heavens also that someone in Hollywood backed the idea of making a film that flaunts just how corrupt the place is, albeit from the relatively safe distance of half a century. Although the scandal and revelations of Confidential are no doubt just as prolific at the beginning of the 21st century, it's hard to imagine many studio execs handing over such a substantial wad of dough for a tough-talking expose of today's glitterati, and the cops who prtect them while they sleep.

For once what we have here is a movie that actually delivers more than the hype, and already one can see it's ageing well. It's hard to imagine anyone producing anything as significant, let alone better, any time soon. That is of course unless that left-of-field delivers another radar-invisible curveball, but I would seriously doubt it. L.A. Confidential gloriously transcends the notion of representing a landmark in filmmaking. It's not that it represents anything new, just the absolute distillation of it's parts into the most perfect form imaginable. It isn't shouting for your attention, it's just...there, and it's brilliant. We don't give out 5 stars easily here at TheOneLiner, but there's very little arguing to be done with this saucy number. Again, again!

Disko has awarded thees moo-vee 5 out of 5 "Floyd FLivx" Certificates

Curtis Hanson
Cast list:
Guy Pearce (Ed Exley)
Kevin Spacey (Jack Vincennes)
Russell Crowe (Bud White)
Kim Basinger (Lynn Bracken)
James Cromwell (Dudley Smith)
Danny DeVito (Sid Hudgens)