L.A. Confidential (1997)

L.A. Confidential (1997) – It was a cold night in Sacramento. The nights are always cold in Sacramento. Except for all those months where they’re hot. Or temperate. But this wasn’t one of those nights. I had just watched what was supposed to have been a funny movie, but it didn’t bring the goods. Suddenly an idea walked into my head like a beautiful dame with gams up to her eyeballs. Figuratively speaking, that is since a dame with leg eyeballs would actually be a freak show attraction, but writing faux film noir hardboiled talk doesn’t always have to make sense. Sometimes it’s better when it don’t. Anyway, the idea was so crazy that it had to work: watch a good movie instead. I’d poured all my time into playing L.A. Noire recently like so much whiskey down the gullet of a drunkard. Now I was jonesing for the source. Reaching over to the Blu-ray shelf, I grabbed Curtis Hanson’s 1997 neo-noir L.A. Confidential and popped in the PS3. The adventure began. The idea was good. A week later I had an idea: write the review in fake hardboiled film noir style. I started but that idea wasn’t carrying water so I decided to abandon it and write the rest of the review like a sane person…

L.A. Confidential is a great film. It looks of the myth of “the more innocent time” that people always pine for. America’s always been a pretty violent nation. Set in 1950s Los Angeles, the film adopts the style of an old film noir (albeit in color) but tackles subject matter you couldn’t get past the Hays Code back in the 50s. The film starts with the [real] “Bloody Christmas” police brutality scandal and focuses on the [fictional] “Nite Owl Massacre.’ Careers are made, lives are broken. There are hookers that look like movies stars and real-life gangsters like Johnny Stompanato. The characters are well developed. This was actually the first movie I had ever seen Guy Pearce or Russell Crowe in (actually I might have seen Virtuosity first, but I’m not sure). Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Ron Rifkin, Simon Baker (then known as Simon Baker Denny), and an Oscar-winning Kim Basinger all bring their A-game.

Maybe I’m just a sucker for the film noir genre but I think the Oscar-winning screenplay by Brian Helgeland (scribe of such other prestige films as Mystic River and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master) gets all the beats right. Curtis Hanson’s direction is slick and stylish, but with enough depth to give it some resonance. I read the book when I was in junior high. The movie covers maybe one tenth of the insanely complicated plot but I vastly prefer the film version (though maybe as an adult I owe it to James Ellroy to give his novel another shot). There was one surprise in the movie I did not see coming (the first time I saw it back 14 years ago) that probably isn’t as shocking anymore due to the bizarre typecasting the actor involved has fell into (probably as a result largely of this movie), but the twists and turns of the plot are absorbing and awesome. If you haven’t seen this one, get on it.

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