movie review by Mark Leeper
is a dense, complex, multi- layered crime story that may just be one of
best films of its kind ever made. Great dialogue, very good plot, great characters,
good musical score, great photography. This is one of the most engaging film script we
have seen in a while. This is a film to rank with THE MALTESE FALCON and CHINATOWN
among the best of the crime.
Rating: 9 (0 to 10).
New York Critics: 27 positive, 0 negative, 0 mixed
They are almost a genre by themselves, Los Angeles and San Francisco crime dramas. Set in the short space of time around the World War II are the Philip Marlowe, Easy Rawlins, Sam Spade and a host of others. Ranking with the best of them and inviting comparison to Chinatown (which it may even beat) is L. A. Confidential. Curtis Hanson who also directed The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and The River Wild has given us a rich adaptation of the James Ellroy novel, directing and co- authoring the screenplay with Helgeland. He has retained a complex interconnected plot, but rarely a bewildering one-- not an easy thing to do. In it Los Angeles is a completely interconnected ecosystem of police, organized crime, small-time crime, race, politics, TV, movies, law, and journalism. There is a second system interconnecting idealism, bigotry, lies, half-lies, blackmail, posturing, cover-ups, frame-ups, delusions, and publicity. It is impossible to give a decent description of the plot in one or two paragraphs as the film has enough plot for two or three films. At 136 minutes, L. A. Confidential can pack in this much plot only because nothing is wasted.
Against the backdrop of a 1953 Los Angeles rotting from within we have the story of three cops. Each an idealist in certain ways but willing to get his hands dirty for his principles. Bud White (played by Russell Crowe) has a personal crusade against men who beat women. He also believes in the code of silence protecting other cops who break the law. His captain, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) figures that make White not very smart and uses him for muscle and for semi-legal activities of keeping mobsters out of Los Angeles. Almost precisely the opposite is Ed Exley (Guy Pearce). Exley loves the letter of the law and sees no reason to be loyal to other cops, but he also wants to climb the ladder and to get all the glory he can gather. The third cop is Sgt. Jack Vincennes. He gets his kicks being the police expert for TV's "Badge of Honor" (a thinly disguised "Dragnet"). He like hobnobbing with celebrities and with people like Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito) the editor for the oxymoronically-named "Hush-Hush" true crime magazine. The three cops get involved with a movie-star look-alike prostitution ring run by suave Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn) and particularly his Veronica Lake look-alike Lynn Bracken (Kim Bassinger). A friend of hers gets herself murdered in a six-victim massacre at the Nite Owl Coffee shop.
One nearly wants to call the execution of this film flawless. The dialogue is crisp and ironic. The script is tightly written with not a single scene wasted or unimportant. This is not a film that leaves you a safe moment to go out for popcorn. The characters are finely defined. No two are interchangeable. Eventually we understand each and why he does what he does. If the film does anything superficially it is in its explanation of why Exley is such a straight-arrow and why White so hates men who beat women. But the visuals really capture the period. (One minor error in period: the film shows the premiere of the film When Worlds Collide. That would have been in 1951, George Pal's follow-up War of the Worldswas released in 1953.) Jerry Goldsmith has written a jazzy score with the feel of a 1950s film.
It is amazing how much is packed even into a film of 136 minutes and into what a neat package the pieces fit. Be prepared to sit through the entire film, there is not a single scene wasted and few scenes the film can function without. I give the film a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. Objectively this film probably ranks with Chinatown and The Maltese Falcon.
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