In "L.A. Confidential", James Ellroy's novel of police corruption in
1950's Hollywood becomes a powerful, stylish film with dazzling acting
from an exceptional cast. Gorgeous art direction highlights the lurid
pulp tone of this complex, violent tale. "L.A. Confidential" is a rarity,
a major Hollywood film with smart acting, dialogue and production values
that actually works from beginning to end.
The noir thriller about rogue cops takes place in 1953, when Los Angeles
still seemed glamorous and magical, as opposed to now, where it is simply
the worst city on Earth. A major mob boss goes to jail, prompting a
feeding frenzy as bad guys scramble for his turf. Meanwhile, a corrupt
officer is one of the victims of a grisly coffee shop murder, triggering
a massive police investigation. Against this background, we meet Bud
White (Russell Crowe), an attack dog cop with a unique personal moral
code; Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), a slick operator who collaborates
with a scandal magazine to insure high-profile arrests; and Ed Exley (Guy
Pearce), a self-righteous prig who knows how to work departmental
politics to further his own agenda.
The art direction of "L.A. Confidential" is spectacular, perfectly
recreating a picture-postcard Hollywood. Director Curtis Hanson uses the
sets masterfully, layering realistic bits of detail over the splashy
backdrops to simultaneously accentuate and offset the sense of glamour.
"L.A. Confidential" features near-flawless acting from its large ensemble
cast. Russell Crowe ("Romper Stomper", "Virtuosity") gives an Oscar-
caliber performance as Bud White, a great bull of a man who has learned
to slug, rather than think his way through situations. Initially, White
seems to be a simple thug, but there's far more to him than meets the eye.
Guy Pearce ("Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert") is striking as the
sanctimonious Ed Exley. His most impressive moment comes during an
interrogation scene, where his manipulative skills while grilling a trio
of suspects is both repellent and mesmerizing.
As Jack Vincennes, star-struck technical advisor for a "Dragnet"-style TV
series, Kevin Spacey ("The Usual Suspects") demonstrates why he is one of
the most respected actors anywhere. Spacey has a great face, and he uses
his craggy features to convey just what happens when a man trades his
morals for the spotlight.
Kim Basinger is also strong in her best role in years, as a high-priced
call girl who becomes involved with White. Basinger does fine work adding
nuance to a character who is basically a live-action Jessica Rabbit.
Surprisingly, the film's only shaky performance comes from veteran actor
James Cromwell ("Babe") as Capt. Dudley Smith. Cromwell plays his
character well, but inexplicably jumps back and forth between American
and Irish accents. In the future, James, pick a country and stick with it.
With nods to "Pulp Fiction" and "Chinatown", "L.A. Confidential" is
complicated, but never muddy. The complex tale is told in a
straightforward fashion, resulting in an utterly engrossing piece of
filmmaking. The movie was a sensation at the Cannes Film Festival and
come next March, should draw a lot of attention at the Academy Awards as
Copyright © 1997 Edward Johnson-Ott