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L.A. Confidential
Crime, Drama, Thriller, Mystery
IMDB rating:
Curtis Hanson
Kevin Spacey as Jack Vincennes
Russell Crowe as Bud White
Guy Pearce as Ed Exley
James Cromwell as Dudley Smith
Kim Basinger as Lynn Bracken
Danny DeVito as Sid Hudgens
David Strathairn as Pierce Patchett
Ron Rifkin as Deputy DA Ellis Loew
Matt McCoy as 'Badge of Honor' Star Brett Chase
Paul Guilfoyle as Mickey Cohen
Paolo Seganti as Johnny Stompanato
Elisabeth Granli as Mickey Cohen's Mambo Partner
Sandra Taylor as Mickey Cohen's Mambo Partner
Steve Rankin as Officer Arresting Mickey Cohen
Storyline: 1950's Los Angeles is the seedy backdrop for this intricate noir-ish tale of police corruption and Hollywood sleaze. Three very different cops are all after the truth, each in their own style: Ed Exley, the golden boy of the police force, willing to do almost anything to get ahead, except sell out; Bud White, ready to break the rules to seek justice, but barely able to keep his raging violence under control; and Jack Vincennes, always looking for celebrity and a quick buck until his conscience drives him to join Exley and White down the one-way path to find the truth behind the dark world of L.A. crime.
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Cop vs. Cop
"Come to Los Angeles. The sun shines bright, the beaches are wide and inviting, and the orange groves stretch as far as the eye can see. There are jobs aplenty, and land is cheap. Every working man can have his own house, and inside every house, a happy all-American family. You can have all this, and who knows? You can even be discovered. Become a movie star, or at least be one. Life is good in Los Angeles. It's paradise on earth . . . (laughs) . . . That's what they tell you anyway. That's because they're selling an image . . ." So speaks Walter Winchell sound-alike Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) while we see sparkling images of LA life (and catch glimpses of movie stars like Marilyn, Frank Sinatra, and Deborah Kerr).

Hudgens produces "HUSH-HUSH" magazine, a Hollywood scandal tabloid. Behind all of the glamor there is the seamy side of LA, and Hudgens continues his narrative: Mickey Cohen (by the way, a real person) had taken over the Hollywood crime rackets. His associate is Johnny Stompanato, Lana Turner's love interest (also in real life). But Cohen is soon arrested and imprisoned for income tax evasion. The control of the rackets is thus left open, and hit squads are knocking off the top lieutenants. Sarcastically pointed out are the LA police, who are not against planting evidence and grabbing a few bucks and administering beatings (and, as we soon discover, are not averse to using ethnic slurs, such as wop, jig, and spic). The focus of the movie is an exposé of the LAPD, warts and all.

The tale – and it is a serpentine one – is about the intertwining paths of three separate police officers who maintain the peace by their own separate actions: Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce), Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), and Wendell "Bud" White (Russell Crowe). Exley is squeaky clean, while Vincennes is compromising and likes to keep his hands unsoiled. White uses brutal methods, to say the least. Despite their differing tactics, and the fact that they may clash with each other (and how!), these three are all basically respectable policemen. At an inquest, Detective White is termed a "thug" by DA Ellis Loew (Ron Rifkin), who has his own demons (see what happens to him!). White's partner is Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel), a loose canon if there ever was one. Exley was first in his class (out of 123) and chose the detective bureau against the advice of Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). Exley also disagrees with the stiff and sordid Smith, who uses extreme methods that are quite frankly illegal. Exley believes in following the code of honor to the letter. Meanwhile narcotics detective Vincennes works on the side as a technical adviser on "Badge of Honor," a TV police show like "Dragnet." As a publicity guy he is also involved in publisher Hudgen's scoops, such as setting up celebrities in compromising situations.

The three cops are involved with unraveling the pervasive LA corruption like peeling layers on an onion. There are a series of events that initially do not seem to be tied in. But they are all related to the twisted plot. To mention a few incidents: A parole violator beats up his wife on Christmas night, Mexican suspects are arrested and beaten in jail (they had supposedly killed a cop), White meets prostitute Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) at a liquor store, an ex-cop driver by the name of Leland "Buzz" Meeks is shaken up by White, a corpse rots in a crawl space under a porch, and homosexual actor Matt Reynolds is found dead with his throat cut. But the main occurrence that sets the ball rolling is the massacre of six people (including two waitresses) at the Nite Owl Café, where a recently dismissed cop (scapegoat?) was also murdered. Now the investigation begins in earnest. Several Negroes are conveniently implicated in the carnage; they have records (they know something about the kidnapping and continuous rape of a Mexican woman). Later Stompanato reveals to White about a missing heroin cache of 25 pounds. Meanwhile slimy rich pimp Pierce Morehouse Patchett (David Strathaim), owner of the "Fleur-de-Lis" prostitution ring, has "cut girls" (call girls who have plastic surgery to resemble the likenesses of Hollywood actresses, like Veronica Lake and Rita Hayworth). As the film progresses key characters show up dead. Then there is a shocking revelation at the one-hundredth minute mark when even a major lead is murdered (although there are red herrings). Stick with this one until its riveting climax at the Victory Motel!

The atmosphere of the movie feels like it is late December 1953 or January 1954: the cars, the clothing, and the hairstyles. The film does not need popular music of the 1950s to generate the feel of the period. Note that except for Kay Starr's "Wheel of Fortune" (1952), most of the rather modest soundtrack comes from the 1930s and 1940s. Now one may complain that the unfurling of so many characters causes some confusion. But the story – tense and suspenseful all the way – does unfold quite neatly. And such excellent character development is often not seen enough in motion pictures. The performances of the leads are all at a high level (Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and others) although Jack Nicholson did win the Oscar for Best Actor. Although her part was small, Kim Basinger won both the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. "L.A. Confidential" did garner the Oscar for Best Writing and also was nominated for quite a number of other Oscars, including that of Best Picture, Director, and Cinematography. It is indeed refreshing to see a big-budget feature that delivers. Roger Ebert placed this one into his top ten films listing of 1997. Some folks believe that it just might be the best movie of that year! It is certainly one of the best features of the 1990s decade!
Classy film noire thriller with atmosphere
"L.A. Confidential" is a "guy thing," a well-directed, fast-paced thriller with an atmospheric feel comparable to say "Chinatown" and "Sunset Boulevard." Director Curtis Hanson brings the fifties L.A. milieu to life with music, authentic appearing sets and a story that focuses on crime and corruption, false glamour and moral disillusionment as only the City of Angels could play it. Things get a little bit comic book toward the end, but the characters and story and the rapid-fire one-liners will keep you glued to the screen. There's a lot of Raymond Chandler's L.A. here.

"Confidential" was the name of an "exposé" magazine published in the fifties in the L.A. area. I recall seeing it as a kid in liquor stores at some distance from the comic books. It used green lettering on its first page (the only page I ever saw), and amazing as it may be, I recall a headline once seen: "Youth Attacks/Rapes Own Mother." In this film the magazine is called "Hush- Hush," and Danny DeVito is appropriately cast as its sleazy editor and publisher.

Kim Basinger appears as a Veronica Lake look-a-like prostitute and plays it like Lauren Becall from a Bogey film, but without any wit or grace. James Cromwell is the personification of evil as the morally sick Capt Dudley Smith. Russell Crowe as Bud White, the justice-dispensing cop with a brutal temper and a soft heart for battered dames, gives an excellent performance. Guy Pearce as Ed Exley, the cop with glasses who doesn't care what the other cops think is also very good. Kevin Spacey as Jack Vincennes, the cop whose thrill is to be part of the TV production "Badge of Honor" (that's the old "Dragnet" series with Jack Web from the fifties) is also good.

In short, the cast is excellent and is probably the main reason this classy "shoot 'em up" is so over-rated. It was number 27 on IMDb's top 250 last time I looked. Recent movies and especially male-ID films tend to be overrated on this site. As the Internet and IMDb acquire a greater feminine voice, the ratings of thriller/action/adventure flicks will tumble.

A question to ask while watching this is, was the LAPD really this corrupt? Quick answer: yes. Next question, why? Answer, because all police departments, like all governments eventually become infested with corruption and must to cleaned out or overthrown. Why? Quick, but non- illuminating answer: human nature. Even you and I, if we had to deal with criminals on the one hand and the bureaucracy of the justice system on the other, day after frustrating and cynical day, might very well take on the values and persona of our surroundings.

Some authentic period piece phrases heard in the movie: "Just the facts, Jack"; "taco bender"; "just another Hollywood homicide"; "maybe that's why he's under a house in Elysian Park and don't smell too good" and of course the sleazy tabloid tag: "off the record, on the QT and very hush-hush."

One last thought for Director Hanson: Here's a lyric from a fifties tune that should have made the sound track: "Confidential as a church at twilight/Secret and moving as a lover's prayer/My love for you will always be confidential to me." They used to moon over that one in the barrios, circa 1955.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
Don't like cop movies? - Watch this anyway!
I am a hardened hater of cop movies, especially 50's cop movies. So, having been forced onto the sofa to watch this supposed "gem" of a movie by an ardent Russell Crowe fan, I settled down reluctantly to what I thought would be over two hours of stereotypical pap.

Was I ever wrong! Forget the old stereotypes - good cop/bad cop, buddy cop movies and the rest. This takes all of those and twists them out of all recognition. Every character has his or her lovable side but you end up resenting the fact that you like them because of various other angles of their personalities.

The ensemble cast is superb! Kevin Spacey is on form as ever, Russell Crowe deservedly broke into Hollywood with this role and, hopefully, so will the excellent and much underrated Guy Pearce. And as for Kim Basinger, well, having thought of her acting as a somewhere between mildly amusing and downright irritating for some years I have had to re-evaluate and now think she's totally amazing. Talk about versatility! Even the ever type-cast Danny DeVito is splendid as the narrator and two-bit hack who coins the title to the movie.

The friend who made me watch the movie is now living in delighted smugness in the fact that I have to admit that this has to be my favourite film of all time and also that I have watched it at least a dozen times.

Just two words can now set the hairs on the back of my neck on end (you'll understand if you watch it) - "Rolo Tamasi"!
20 years from now
I believe that we should have a hall of fame for movies over 20 years old. I think that this is the right period of time to tell whether a film will be a classic. In my view this will be up there with the best. It has style and great acting and the production is first class. Of recent films this ranks with Shawshank as the one that slipped passed the Academy - hence the need for the 20 year award. I think Titanic will be silently resting in peace and forgotten by then
The best major studio release of the 90s.
Just to claim a title. Usually (not in all cases) the ´big´ Hollywood films are technically superior, but suffer from flat characters, an uninteresting story and overall dumbness (to say it in a simplistic and maybe overly harsh way). L.A. Confidential is different AND technically flawless. The screenwriters, among them director Hanson, did a very good job to translate Ellroys masterpiece to the screen. The book is better, the characters deeper, their stories darker and the whole thing is more convincing, but this would`nt fit into a 10 hour movie at all. L.A. Confidential proves that there is hope for Hollywood. 9/10
A truly classic film
When i first saw L.A. Confidential, i was simply blown away by it. Nothing about this movie is less than perfect. The cast is terrific, particularly Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce. Curtis Hanson's direction is masterful as is his Oscar-winning script co-written by Brian Helgeland. The story, based on James Ellroy's novel is multi-layered and very engrossing, involving crime and corruption in 1950s L.A. This movie captures perfectly the look and mood of that time and place. From the opening scene to the very end, i sat there glued to the screen. I can't recall ever getting as lost in a film as I did with this one. I have watched it many times and it never gets tired. L.A. Confidential is certainly one of the greatest films ever made.
Two Words: Lackluster and Mediocrity
How does a potentially good movie - jam-packed with excellent talent – manage to stumble into forgettable mediocrity? It seemed the cast was tight and firing on all cylinders, the director was doing his thing superbly, and production (whatever they do) was more than adequate (I guess) – so – what happened? Did it seem like there were some major character-disconnects? It felt that a bit - there were moments in the story when the plot was more like a disorganized smattering of unruly lice than some kind of a storyline. Was it too long? Again – time is relative and – for me – this show was relatively too long. Predictable? Oh please – this was your typical bad cop vs. badder cop vs. baddest cop. I might be too hard on this flick – I don't know. I am probably spoiled by some of the quality TV crime drama (you know – the ones that have good writers and last an hour). LA Confidential was just not a spectacular tale, it was almost boring. Don't get me wrong – this is not a bad movie – it is actually pretty good – it's just not great. To put it another way, L.A. Confidential, is like a Chevy Corvette outfitted with a Vespa engine all flash and no guts. I apologize to those who loved the movie, but I won't lose sleep over it. This story needs to be re-buried in that woman's smelly basement – at least for me.
If you like good movies this is for you
I'm not worthy to review this film. However, I need to write some sort of glowing praise of this masterpiece though just to satisfy myself. Wow! What a movie. Fast paced, very tight, well written story, superb acting by all. Russel Crowe seemed to play a typical role, but very well. Kevin Spacey is always excellent. I'm sure Kim Basinger's acting was marvelous as well but I was so distracted by how gorgeous she was I could hardly pay attention. The plot ranks up there, probably above The Usual Suspects. I think the twist at the end of Usual Suspects was better, but everything in LA Confidential is brilliant. The characters are all so well developed. My only complaint is that Guy Pearce's character seemed too easily accepted after his ratting out other officers. Not downplay Guy Pearce's performance which was also quite good. I can't believe I hadn't heard more about this movie before. This movie is to film and the 1950's LA scene what The Great Gatsby was to literature and the 1920's Jazz Age, but much more entertaining than the Great Gatsby.
***** Best Film of the 90s
Hands-down my favourite American film of the nineties. Curtis Hanson shocked the world by proving to be not only a great director but an auteur with this unbeatable adaptation of James Ellroy's terrifying novel about corruption and crime among members of the LAPD in the 1950s. The hard-boiled detective story angle is brought to life so beautifully, mostly because Jeannine Claudia Oppewall's production design recreates the dark underside of the 50s to such perfection that not even a Coke bottle label is missed. Add to that Dante Spinotti's stunning lighting that rides the fine line between artistic and believable comfortably (as all period camerawork should), Ruth Myers' costume designing and a script by Hanson and The Postman scribe Brian Helgeland (I know, I don't get it either) that pares down Ellroy's mammoth plot about a multiple murder in a local diner involving a policeman with suspicious ties without sacrificing the density of the story or the spiderweb of events involved with it, and you have the best movie of 1997, not to mention the most fascinating detective film ever made since Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. The cast is all brilliant, most notably Kim Basinger as a wordly prostitute who has not only a heart of gold but a mind of steel--Basinger is so strong in her character's every nuance you'll find yourself forgetting she's even acting--and Kevin Spacey as a Dean Martin-esque detective who not only solves an important part of the puzzle, he even discovers he possesses a soul beneath his flashy suits. I just can't get enough of this film.
Best movie in 20 years.
This was not only the best movie of 1997, but probably the last twenty years. It's disgraceful that Titanic won the award for best picture. This film has terrific acting, cinematography, a great screenplay and great character development. The book was phenomenal as well and the film got the stamp of approval from write James Ellroy. Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland wrote a great screenplay from the book. This film could have been a disaster, but their terrific screen writing was a testament to a great book.

With such a star studded cast which includes Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey and Kim Basinger, we see some fine performers practicing their craft at the highest level. If you like a great crime fiction with many plot twists, see this film. I cant say enough about this film, only that it is my favorite film of all time. 10/10
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