Directed by, and co writer of the screenplay, Curtis Hanson takes James Ellroy's labyrinthine novel of the same name and encapsulates the viewer in a world of stars, sleaze, corruption and suspicion. As the sub text says...”Everything is suspect. Everyone is for sale. And nothing is what is seems”
Narrated by Sid Hudgens, proprietor and writer of the sleaze magazine 'HUSH-HUSH', L.A. Confidential opens with a montage, glossing over the American Dream image of LA to show the current state of crime in The City of Angels. We are presented with mob gangster Mickey Cohen and his henchmen enjoying the highlife, living off prostitution and drugs. In their vain attempt to clean up the image of policing within L.A. the police force finally manage to trap Mickey C using the old Capone method, evasion of tax payment. The scene is set nicely with the gap that has appeared in the mob racket.
L.A. Confidential has a wide variety of characters that all have their own story to tell; all have their reasons for who and what they are.
First up is Officer Bud White, due to personal history running an ongoing vendetta against any and all women beaters. Bud goes on gut instinct, by his own admission he doesn't have the 'smarts', but he gets the results required.
Next is Officer Jack Vincennes, a long serving officer who has forgotten the reason he joined up in the first place is now more interested in his image and securing additional 'pension fund' contributions than doing the hard work of crime investigation. Jack also increases his exposure and image by acting as technical consultant for 'Badge of Honour' a TV cop show.
Fresh out of the Academy is Officer Ed Exley, naive, son of a former policeman killed on duty he believes he can be an honest detective, not taking bribes, not looking the other way and not killing known perpetrators even if he knows they may get off with a good lawyer.
Lording over them all we have Captain D. Smith, although to his friends he prefers being called Dudley. Dudley, being of the old school, believes sometimes an officer has to go beyond the call of duty and bend, or realistically break, the rules to ensure justice never falters.
Beauty is brought to the screen with Lynn Bracken, a high-class prostitute from a small Arizona town. She came to L.A. with a view to act however fell by the wayside and is now making her way, still acting as she puts it, with a view to returning to the old homestead.
Lynn's 'employer' is one Pierce Pratchett, shady organiser of other peoples dreams through the prostitution racket he masterminds. Rich, suave and cunning he has the intelligence to keep his cards close to his chest and invest his ill gotten gains in the future of L.A.
Finally popping up to create the news and then report on it for his own ends is Sid Hudgens. Sid, friend and pension contributor to Jack Vincennes, has no qualms about setting up movie stars or people in power for the glory of his sleazy magazine.
We find that Ed will do anything to further his own career, snitching out fellow officers who have brutally instigated a riot in the police cells, beating up on some Mexicans who have been brought in on suspicion of harming other officers. The aftermath sees Officer Dick Stensland expelled from the force just a year before his is due his retirement. This creates obvious friction in the force between fellow officers and Ed, and in particular between Bud and Ed due to the fact that Stensland was Bud's partner.
Now retired, a botched robbery at the Night Owl café sees Stensland murdered along with one of Pratchett's hookers and a number of other people; a massacre in the very sense of the word. Three black guys are initially fingered for the crime and brought in for questioning. It transpires during interrogation that although responsible for other heinous crimes they are not admitting to the Night Owl massacre.
Further investigation raises doubts in our three main characters minds. Jack starts putting pieces of a jigsaw together from previous arrests some loosely connected to Pratchett's prostitution racket. Ed, with his Academy brain researches historical connections between Stensland and, ex cop, now hired goon of Pratchetts. Bud with his gut instincts knows there's something wrong but just can't prove it, yet.
All three hold different pieces of the larger story, and after believing they have been played as saps by powers higher than themselves ultimately decide to put their differences to one side and decide to solve the mystery of the Night Owl Massacre without the need for personal gain.
And this, dear reader, is where I must leave this review. There are far too many superb scenes, a twisting deep set plot where one exposure of a clue leads to another and another until eventually the big picture can be seen. Sub plots consist of Bud's relationship with the hooker Lynn, his and Ed's bitterness towards each other, Jacks relationship with himself and his exposure to the outside world, and perhaps most importantly the differentiation between the L.A. world as it wants to be portrayed and what's actually going on in its seedy underbelly.
Acting in L.A. Confidential is second to none. We have a sterling cast, Russell Crowe as Bud, Guy Pearce as Ed, Kevin Spacey playing Jack, James Cromwell with a less than convincing Irish lilt as Captain Dudley Smith, Kim Basinger as the delectable Lynn and last but certainly not least Danny DeVito as the magazine hound Sid Hudgens. All, bar none, give performances any actor would be pleased with at the height of their career. For a film to have two accredited performances is rare these days to have 6 totally on top of their game staggers belief. The screenplay is wonderful, not a moment is wasted, L.A. Confidential demands total immersion from the viewer and is then rewarded for it. Probably one of the greatest travesties of all time is this didn't do better at the Oscars, but then it did have the popular appeal of Titanic to contend with.
A criticism perhaps... well L.A. Confidential is supposedly set in 1953. During one arrest there is a premier for “When Worlds Collide” in the background, unfortunately released in 1951. Very, very picky, but it's difficult to flaw work as good as this.
So dear readers you heard it here first... Off the record, on the QT and very HUSH-HUSH !
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