LA Confidential At 25 years
LA Confidential, which hit the screens 25 years ago this week, is one of the best cop movies, Los Angeles movies and movies of the 1950s. It’s also the best movie that most of its actors and sound team have ever been associated.
The plot, in the pure tradition of film noir, is complex at will, but ultimately matters little that the character and the atmosphere.
The year is 1953, mobster Mickey Cohen has just gone to jail, and the people in and out of town who yearn to take control of his rackets end up dying. The police are investigating, but there’s an air of corruption that goes way beyond the LAPD and into Hollywood as well. The plot is triggered by a massacre at an all-night restaurant, which kills a recently fired cop.
Adapted from the novel by James Ellroy by writer Brian Helgeland and director Curtis Hanson. It’s the best movie the late Hanson ever made, and he made some good ones. It also sports a beautiful score by Jerry Goldsmith.
There are several types of cops in LA Confidential. Ed Exley (Guy Peace) is a white knight, the proverbial son of a great man, eager to expose cop corruption even though it makes him enemies throughout the LAPD. Bud White (Russell Crowe) is a case of brutal rage, but with a conscience that slowly emerges throughout the film. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a fucking celebrity, less concerned with police work than his work as a “technical adviser” on a Pickup-like a TV show. And Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) is deeply corrupt and willing to kill to avoid exposure.
All of the cops except Smith will have their worldview adjusted somewhat over the course of the film, while their alliances will change. This shade — along with half a dozen classic scenes — is the best thing about LA Confidential.
The other key character is a sex worker who looks like Veronica Lake (played by Kim Basinger, who doesn’t particularly resemble Veronica Lake. She’s set up as a traditional femme fatale, but there’s really nothing ‘fatal’ about it. She mostly manages to talk about her male counterparts.
Also featured in the plot are the operator of his escort service (David Strathairn), a sleazy tabloid photographer (Danny DeVito) and the closed district attorney (Ron Rifkin.) This greatly helps the film that almost everyone is a fantastic actor.
LA Confidential represented the Hollywood escape for the two Australian actors, Pierce and Crowe, and the film led to several years of stardom for Crowe, while Pierce earned steady work all the time since even starring in films important as Memento.
We’ll never see Kevin Spacey in a movie again, for very good reasons, but it was one of his best performances, delivered right between his two Oscars (for The usual suspects two years earlier and american beauty two years later.) And Cromwell, as a villain, is absolutely creepy.
LA Confidential was nominated for nine Oscars, although it was beaten out for the most part by the Titanic juggernaut that year. Kim Basinger won the film’s only Oscar, despite having the fifth or sixth best performance.
Yes, the film’s epilogue is completely unnecessary, only serving for Russell Crowe to deliver a speech explaining the villains’ entire evil plot. As William Goldman pointed out, when he used to do an annual column in Premiere magazine exposing all the failings of the Best Picture nominees, the movie should have ended five minutes earlier with Exley waving his badge at the arrival of the police cars, a striking image that appeared on one of the film’s posters.
Even so, there were plenty of great movies released in the fall of 1997, but LA Confidential may be the best of them.