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L.A. Confidential

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: L.A. Confidential

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe
Director: Curtis Hanson
Rated: R
RunTime: 136 Minutes
Release Date: September 1997
Genres: Mystery, Drama, Action, Suspense

*Also starring: James Cromwell, Guy Pearce, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Simon Baker

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Review by MrBrown
4 stars out of 4

Curtis Hanson's adaptation of James Ellroy's crime novel L.A. Confidential earned a strong buzz after premiering at Cannes this past May, and it's easy to see why: it is Hollywood moviemaking at its finest--a classy piece of entertainment made with equal parts passion, style, and fun.

The seemingly idyllic Los Angeles of the early 1950s provides the glitzy backdrop for the grisly crime that is the focus of the story: a bloody mass murder in an all-night coffee shop. One of the victims is Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel), a subpar police officer who was forced into retirement after a brutality incident not too long before his death. Heading the investigation into the murders are Stensland's former partner, Wendell "Bud" White (Russell Crowe); ambitious but naive Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce); and vice cop Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), who soon find out the case is not as open and shut as it appears to be.

Yes, L.A. Confidential is an uncommonly complex and intelligent mystery; the ever-twisting plot continually surprises the audience without insulting its intelligence, and the wry sense of humor Hanson and co-scripter Brian Helgeland keeps the film from coming off as self-important and pretentious. But as sturdy as the story is, the film would not have come to life in such fabulous form without its richly drawn characters, particularly the All-American pair of Ed and Bud, played in career-making turns by Aussies Pearce and Crowe. For the most part, the central character is Ed, a prototype for the "new" officer in the LAPD being introduced at this time--one who prides himself on high moral principles, seeking justice and truth without beating it out of a suspect. While the intelligent Ed is able to negotiate himself into a high position within the department, he doesn't have the street smarts or toughness that commands respect from his peers or elicit fear from his enemies; his reliance on eyeglasses only adds to the problem. On the other hand lies Bud, the "muscle" cop known to take a brutal stand against perps, especially women beaters. He is what is perceived as the ideal cop, but as the film progresses, we see how his hot-tempered style is quickly becoming obsolete, setting up an interesting, intricate contrast. Ed and Bud are not so much opposites in the manner of black and white as they are in the yin and yang sense--they contrast, but neither is clearly right nor wrong, and while they appear flawed and incomplete on their own, together their qualities make an ideal whole.

Surrounding Ed and Bud are an equally colorful cast of characters, played to perfection by the impressive ensemble. Spacey is terrific as Jack, the spotlight-seeking cop who regularly busts showbiz personalities with gossip rag editor Sid Hudgins, played with the right balance of smarm and charm by Danny DeVito. Kim Basinger is stunning, dangerous, and vulnerable as glamorous top-dollar whore Lynn Bracken, even if her character is one of the least effectively developed in the film. James Cromwell (as Capt. Dudley Smith), Ron Rifkin (as District Attorney Ellis Lowe), and David Strathairn (as wealthy, shady Pierce Pratchett) also make lasting impressions.

In the end, the reason why L.A. Confidential is such a juicy piece of pulp fiction is that it is, quite simply, a good story told exceptionally well. It is superlative Hollywood entertainment--the type of picture that Tinseltown likes to congratulate itself for making come March.

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