[L.A. CONFIDENTIAL screens Saturday April 16th at 7pm and 10pm at the CWRU Film Society in Strosacker Auditorium.]
Review by Charles Cassady Jr.
This fabulously atmospheric film noir came to screens with so many critical hymns that it's considered a modern classic. Contrary as ever, I can't say I'll go that far, though certainly the elements most pleasing to nerdy-cinephiles-with-no-girlfriends are everywhere in evidence, so I'll respect that. Director Curtis Hanson endows this with a nostalgic mood so thick you can cut it with a knife. Action takes place in 1950s Tinseltown, and centers on three contrasting Los Angeles Police Department top detectives at a peculiar intersection where organized crime, corruption and showbiz culture mingle.
Hot tempered Bud White (Russell Crowe) directs a brutal anger towards lawbreakers, especially those who abuse and exploit women. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is a sharp up-and-coming sleuth but tactless and ruthless in his career plans. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) moonlights as a technical advisor for a "Dragnet"-style TV police drama, and he's clearly gone Hollywood. With the Greek-chorus figure of a sleazy tabloid-magazine publisher (Danny DeVito) running a rag modeled on the real-life gossip magazine Confidential in the background as a sort of linking device, the caseloads and investigations of the trio converge on the mystery of a violent diner massacre in which Bud's partner was killed, and where there are uncomfortable hints of massive LAPD corruption.
The LAPD corrupt? Seen that one in movies so often there ought to be a special emergency phone number, maybe 9-1-1-1, which characters can dial in case of evil SoCal lawmen; maybe a helpful posse of Bloods or Crips will come to the rescue. A lot of the narrative gambits that LA CONFIDENTIAL makes we've seen all too often in lesser cop operas; heroes who take beatings that would put anyone else in a hospital for months then heal up a few edits later, a lovably paternal authority figure who naturally turns out to be the worst villain, and, when all is said and done, an ending in which everyone shoots everyone and lives happily ever after (maybe the source novel by James Ellroy is exactly like that; I must confess that's one I haven't read).
So why all the Oscar nominations in 1997? Of course the great 1950s-period recreation, strong acting and an especially good dynamic between White and Exley, two hard-charging, fascinatingly flawed protagonists who hate each other's guts (and both love the heroine, Kim Basinger playing a prostitute surgically "cut" to resemble a movie starlet) yet come to see and recognize their worst elements in each other. That puts this a good class above the usual cops-a-go-go actioner seemingly styled for kids and the foreign mouth-breather market. (3 out of 4 stars)