L.A. Confidential is the epitome of film noir
Period pieces are showing up everywhere these days. Whether you have James Cameron's epic Titanic or Iain Softley's The Wings of the Dove, period pieces are becoming much more popular nowadays. Perhaps I am just overstating that a little, as period pieces have been constantly made for years. However, the 90s have seemingly spawned numerous films which occur in past settings. Out of all period pieces, film noir is probably a little harder to film. Few directors succeed at creating good film noir, but only a couple create masterpieces (Joel Coen is one such director).
That's what makes L.A. Confidential such a heavenly surprise. Upon seeing the previews for L.A. Confidential, I thought it was some drama with some moral story to it that would bore the average viewer. Then reviews flooded out, praising the film as the year's best film. While I wouldn't go as far to say it is the year's best, it is certainly one of them. L.A. Confidential succeeds in so many areas that it's hard to describe it as just a period piece. Element-wise, L.A. Confidential reminds me of Fargo, 1996's best film. The film is hard to describe, and even more hard to place into one genre. It almost creates a completely new genre in the process of entertaining almost everyone. Of course, L.A. Confidential is not going to appeal all audiences. It's complex story and quirky mood makes it seem like more of a critic's film. Fortunately, it is not. Anyone who is tired of this year's Batman & Robin, Alien Resurrection, or any other film which sacrifices a brain for action, is more than likely to love L.A. Confidential.
L.A. Confidential hasn't received the release that it should, only appearing in a few selected theaters in my state. This limits the film to expand into a major hit, which Confidential could do. As with The Usual Suspects (also a film starring Kevin Spacey), L.A. Confidential could turn out to be the year's surprise hit with audiences. But alas, the film is stuck in a corner, trying to find a bigger audience, but subsequently sacrificing expansion into more theaters. I only hope that the Academy will recognize the film in some way (whether it be only nominations). Perhaps this will spark viewers' interests and seek out the film. By then, however, it should be on video and easily accessible to willing viewers. And they certainly won't be disappointed.
L.A. Confidential begins in 1953. A prologue is given by Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito), the editor for the tabloid magazine Hush-Hush. Hudgeons' magazine photographs the rich and famous in compromising situations. He is helped by police officer Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), who pays Hudgeons to photograph him making the arrest. Vincennes is also a consultant on the hit TV show, "Badge of Honor." But that doesn't mean he doesn't take his work seriously--he does. However, explaining the plot is like revealing the ending of The Usual Suspects. You just don't do it. With all the surprises that are in the script of L.A. Confidential, it's very dangerous to explain the plot. On top of that, the plot isn't exactly easy to explain. I will explain the plot as to what I could figure out without revealing any big surprises.
The main character of the film is Lieutenant Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), a by-the-book cop who was promoted after ratting on his fellow officers for starting a fight with a prisoner. Exley wears wire-frame glasses and is always looked down upon by other cops. One of these cops is Bud White (Russell Crowe), a hater of women abusers with a dark, mean-spirited persona which shows up frequently. White is almost completely opposite of Exley, as he only obeys the rules if it will help the criminal get caught. However, these two must come together when their lives become intertwined by circumstances that, at first, seem normal in their world. A murder case falls into the hands of Exley; the murders occured at the Nite Owl Cafe, a small restaurant frequented by policemen. One of the victims was a disgraced ex-cop who was fingered by Exley in the fight. However, because this ex-cop was killed, Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) wants to take the case.
Meanwhile, White has stumbled upon Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn), a wealthy pimp who specializes in finding cheap whores and surgically altering them to look like famous celebrities. White has become infatuated with one, Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) who looks like Veronica Lake, a popular actress. While all this is going on, Vincennes discovers a dead actor in a motel room, and his case may be linked to Exley's. What makes L.A. Confidential so good is that the situations never turn out as you think it might. The characters never do what you expect them to do either. Just when you may understand what is going on, something will happen a few minutes later and the film will spin completely around. Let's just say that the outcome of the film is completely surprising and unexpected. I'll admit that I am one of the supposedly few critics whom are unable to predict what is going to happen next, but I doubt anyone would be able to guess who the killer is in the film.
I don't think I have ever seen a film quite like L.A. Confidential. Many people have compared it to Chinatown, but I would put it ahead of even that one. While the screenplay may be a little too complex, it is also the best thing about it. Sure, L.A. Confidential is dazzling in its use of color and style, but the dialogue is incredibly sharp and the subplots are just as developed as the main plot is. The twisty plot keeps you guessing, and the events portrayed are totally engrossing. What I expected to be a serious drama was actually a drama, comedy, thriller, suspense, mystery, romance story all in one. It mixes all these elements perfectly, creating a film that defies explanation. My advice is to just go see it and think about it afterwards. This is pure entertainment, and while it isn't the best film of the year, like many critics say, it certainly is one of the best.
L.A. Confidential's cast is extremely appropriate for the film, with strong performances from everyone. Russell Crowe recently co-starred in the poorly executed Virtuosity, and his performance was mediocre, at best. Here, though, he gives his best role to date. His face has a handsome quality to it, but there is also anger in his eyes. Guy Pearce gives one of the best performances of the film, making his character seem full of life and color. His enthusiasm for his job is portrayed effectively, and his actions are never questionable. Kevin Spacey also gives a very good performance. His performance is good enough to match his role in The Usual Suspects. James Cromwell has some of the toughest scenes in the film, and his character is fully realized. Cromwell is more than up to the task for this character. However, amidst all the male figures in the film, it is the woman who steals the film. Kim Basinger is the best in the film, and her performance will more than likely get nominations come Oscar time. She also is the most complex character, and Basinger's face, voice, and movement bring the character to stunning life. Danny DeVito and David Strathairn also turn in good performances.
L.A. Confidential is rated R for strong violence and language, along with some nudity and sexuality. While not perfect film making, L.A. Confidential certainly comes close. Despite all the critical raves, L.A. Confidential will more than likely suffer from the same fate as Fargo. It may win Best Supporting Actress (if Gloria Stuart doesn't), and more than likely it will win Best Adapted Screenplay. Due to the film's small gross, the Academy will probably bestow Best Picture upon another film, as sometimes the Academy likes to go with what audiences like. But then again, that isn't quite fair, because I'm sure that if L.A. Confidential had received a wider release, it would have brought in a lot more money. Well, now I'm just rambling. Perhaps I should just end the review by saying, "Go see this film. It's one of the best of the year."
**** out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie