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Sunday, September 11, 2016

LA Confidential (Reviewed by Ben)

There’s a scene, late in Curtis Hanson’s L.A Confidential, where within the story, a brief synopsis of the plot is given. I think even the Sherlock Holmes of moviegoers will be grateful for this moment. That’s because this crime drama is very complicated, and unlike many films, that just makes a great film better.

L.A Confidential is the story of three drastically different cops in L.A’s new police department, taking place in the 1950’s. Each has a personal interest in a new case, which drives the film’s narrative. When we first meet them Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is more proud of his job as an adviser on cop shows than he his as an actual cop, Bud White (Russell Crowe) is a corrupt jerk who has a soft spot for women and a specific hatred for those who lay hands on them. He also despises goody two-shoes Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), who got Bud’s partner, Stensland, kicked off the force for beating up a group of Hispanics for a bit of Christmas fun.

Exley wants nothing more than to be promoted and be as well respected as his father. He is, at first glance, your average, incorruptible cop, but as his sense of honor gets challenged, he gets even more interesting. The crime that starts it all is the murder of Stensland and several others in a bar, and the case gets the title “The Night Owl Murders.” Bud wants to avenge his partner, and Exley just sees it as an opportunity for some more recognition. Vincenne’s doesn’t care about the Night Owl killings, and continues to fool around with celebrities, that is until an actor he knows is murdered.

It turns out the murders were part of a larger web of crime. They are also tied to a man who gives prostitutes plastic surgery so they look like famous actresses. This ties together as both Exley and White begin a romance with one of his creations (an award-winning Kim Bassinger). The final scenes are full of action, backstabbing and interestingly enough, the three men befriending each other. It has a bittersweet ending that I won’t spoil.

This is a movie that really delivers. The writing is quick and sharp with some great highlights. It has an incredibly complex story that is both entertaining and suspenseful. It is littered with twists and turns and unfortunate truths.

And then there’s the acting, which is something else. Spacey gives one of his best as the most likable character in the film. Pearce and Russell Crowe are equally good. But the most impressive thing is watching Bassinger’s Rita Hayworth lookalike twist Crowe’s morals. It’s also surprising how well acted the bit (or at least smaller) parts, such as the woman identifying a murder victim as her daughter and a rough district attorney who Bud almost kills.  Based on a book under the same name by James Elroy, Hansen and these great actors have made more than a movie. They’ve made a world.

There are things I love less, as there are with almost any movie. My main one was how the “bad guys” we’re just not developed enough. It was also hard to tell what their plan was, as this part was a little complex. You just don’t get involved enough in what they’re doing. But this query was nowhere near enough to stop me from loving the film as much as I did.

In two weeks since I watched it, this crime drama has grown to be one of my all-time favorites. It is also one of the most impressive one’s I’ve seen. It is an action-packed drama full of interesting character, clever moments and bright costumes, that any movie fan should enjoy-if not love.

Dad responds: I’ve been waiting for the boys to get old enough to start enjoying important movies with tougher stories and more adult themes.  Unlike so much R-rated rot that delivers little more than shock, gore or raunch, this modern noir masterpiece is built off not one, not two, but three fully-formed (and imperfect) heroes who each end the film in a far different place than where they began it.   

The setting (LA in the 50s when policing was informed by both military and Hollywood cultures) is a character in itself.  And while I agree with Ben that the story was complicated and the evil scheme a bit hard to unpack, such thoughtful complexity was welcome in a genre (the gritty cop drama) known more for characters exercising finger triggers vs. their (and the audience’s) grey matter.