It would be easy to label Lara in L.A. Confidential a nineties attempt a film noir, but it doesn’t quite fit. That overeager catagorization does a disservice both to the film and to the genre. Sure, the pulpy film takes place in the shady underbelly of Los Angeles amid crime and corruption, but L.A.
Confidential isn’t as single-minded in its tone as traditional film noir. Cynicism is present, but it isn’t overpowering. The fatalistic atmosphere of film noir is also absent from the screen. Yet L.A. Confidential weaves its own complex tale with a trio of protagonists, each with his own moral code.
Russell Crowe portrays Bud White, a tough cop who’s willing to break the rules as long as justice is served. Guy Pearce plays Ed Exley, a young, by-the-book cop who survives by his savvy wits. Kevin Spacey is Jack Vincennes, a narcotics cop who lives for his role as technical advisor on the Dragnet-esque Badge of Honor TV show.
The three cops all have different styles, and they don’t always mesh. L.A. Confidential follows them through numerous encounters and situations in Los Angeles during the 1950s. There are plenty of plot threads, but the film is tidy and brings them all together by the end.
The film is filled with colorful supporting characters. There’s the scandal-mongering editor-in-chief of Hush-Hush magazine, Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito). Chief Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) is willing to go to extremes to prevent organized crime from re-establishing a foothold in his city. Kim Basinger plays Lynn Bracken, a mysterious woman who bears a strong resemblance to Veronica Lake. And David Strathairn is the shady millionaire Pierce Patchett.
All of the characters are finely detailed and fascinating. Crowe and Pearce give exceptionally good performances. Their vibrant portrayals bring immediacy to their characters and actions.
The lighting and cinematography are superb, creating a richly textured atmosphere. The realistic sets and locations make Los Angeles of the 1950s come alive.
Director Curtis Hanson handles the myriad plot threads very well. Even though almost a third has been cut from James Ellroy’s original novel, you never notice anything is missing. What remains could have easily become confusing and unintelligible under less capable hands. (Still, you’d be advised to pay attention…the plots are well structured, but they come fast and furious).
L.A. Confidential is a complex and fascinating epic of crime and crime fighters. The finely woven plot is deftly handled, and that combined with great performances make this one a must see.