Movie Review: LA Confidential (1997)

Director: Curtis Hanson

Writer: James Ellroy (novel) Brian Heigeland (screenplay)

Starring: Guy Pierce, Kevin Spacey, Russel Crowe, Kim Basinger

LA Confidential, simply put, is one of the most compelling, endlessly re-watchable thrillers of all time.  One thing that distinguishes this film from its rivals is the faithfulness to its source material.  I don’t mean the novel it was actually adapted from, James Elroy’s piece of the same name, which I haven’t read, I mean Dragnet (1952-9)Dragnet has its fingerprints all over the film, from the opening slightly satirical monologue delivered over a montage of scenes from the city, to the way the story tends to take place in a series of interrogations.  However, this isn’t Dragnet, and modern audiences need a bit more nuance and a bit more honesty.  Not every interrogation ends in a fade out.  Some interrogations end in blood, some end in death, and some end in sex.

The interrogation that ends in sex is one of my favorite scenes in the movie.  Kim Basinger (who won Best Actress for her performance) blazes the screen with wit, honesty and intensity.  Her character Lynn Bracken distinguishes herself early as an intelligent and capable woman, but the world in which she works as a high-class call girl only values her sexuality.  So when Ed Exley (Guy Pierce) knocks on her door in the middle of the night, and passionately kisses her, she resists at first.  She even says “fucking me and fucking Bud White (Russel Crowe) aren’t the same thing you know?”  Upon hearing this, a statement that correctly judged Exley’s true motives, he simply persists, and power relationships being what they were in the 50’s, she has no choice but to succumb.  This quasi-rape scene spurs the film on to its conclusion, but more than just a plot point, it showcases in horrific microcosm one of the film’s central themes; that when the police outstep their bounds, they become indistinguishable from the criminals they fight against.

This theme is shone most obviously in the performance of Russel Crowe, who is stunning as veteran detective Bud White.  When we first see officer White, he interrupts a domestic dispute not by ringing a doorbell or pounding on the door, but by yanking the christmas decorations off their roof.  Though it turned out officer White was justified, as his actions did put at least a temporary halt to an ongoing case of domestic abuse, I wonder who was going to pay for the destroyed christmas decorations.  Later in the film, White executes a man, shooting him in the chest, before taking care to pull out a second gun and stage the crime scene.  Both White (Crowe) and Exley (Pierce) are weak and morally compromised in their own ways, but by the end, they must join together to reach a satisfactory conclusion.  This brings us back to Dragnet.

Every episode of Dragnet ended with an arrest, showing that any mystery is solved and evil is punished, and though LA Confidential is definitely unconventional in most every respect, its ending draws everything together.  Through the masterful performance of everyone involved, particularly James Cromwell whom I believe should’ve won an oscar for his portrayal of Captain Dudley Smith, Curtis Hanson (Director) stitched together a remarkably compelling history lesson.  He shows through the slanted motives and animalistic desires of nearly each character involved, that nothing is exactly as it seems.

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Movie Review: LA Confidential (1997)

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