Beneath the shimmering farce of 1950s Los Angeles a story of corruption rests its weary head, trying to keeping up with the tales of sartorial vice smattered with sunglasses and scotch. But it’s all very Hush-Hush.
Whodunnit? Meet Curtis Hanson, Holllywood’s very own miss and hit showcase. Until L.A. Confidential the guileless Hanson could never quite fill the shoes of Rollo Tamasi. Consistently getting caught in the same web laid out by critics the night before release. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle did a little better than its predecessors and The River Wild promised greater things with a solid cast but 1997 was to be Hanson’s year and he worked hard for it that’s for sure. Rapidly adopting the spectral Rollo Tamasi, Hanson made a name for himself, he became the golden boy, the man that could get away with it. Wonder Boys was a worthy successor, 8 Mile appeals to a specific audience but the the story outshines the director. In Her Shoes was a step in the wrong direction for Hanson, pardon the pun, and he has been relatively quiet since. However, like the Black Dahlia or the Zodiac Killer, Hanson has stamped his name into the book of movie classics, bringing film noir and 1950s Los Angeles into the modern age with class and style.
Ah, Los Angeles. Breathe it in, the confidante of many a scandal, the catalyst of the deluded American Dream, a chimera for impressionable youth. Set against this backdrop of fame, fortune, and frolicking the LAPD keeps the peace but makes a lot of noise.
There aren’t many films that can accommodate the young and talented Guy Pearce, Russel Crowe and Kevin Spacey and pull it off with significant aplomb. With a strong supporting cast consisting of James Cromwell, Danny DeVito and the alluring Kim Bassinger each moment promises sublime performances in this 1997 neo-noir.
Adapted from James Ellroy’s novel of the same name the story follows three LAPD policemen each with a different policing style. First, Edmund Exley, the strait-faced, strait-arrowed justice hound captured by Guy Pearce’s chisled uncompromising screen presence. Second, Wendl ‘Bud’ White, the brutally incorruptable white-knuckled no-nonsense enforcer brought to the screen by Russel Crowe. And finally Jack Vincennes, the Hollywood protégé trapped in a uniform, looking for fast money and flashing cameras, played by Kevin Spacey.
The tainted history of the LAPD, the “best police department in the world” can’t escape an honest depiction, even in fiction. The true events of ‘Bloody Christmas’ (1951) play catalyst to the ensuing environment the ‘under renovation’ LAPD finds itself in and our three protagonists are at the forefront of the focus.
Exley pushing for promotion plays the politics game and sees no shame in ratting out his fellow officers for a step up the ladder. Brandished a rat by the department he fortunately finds himself alone in the office one night and is first to the scene of a mass homicide at a local cafe, the Nite Owl.
The time to shine in a town that perpetually glistens couldn’t be passed up by Exley, opening doors to a case far bigger than he can handle. Often encouraged to act first and ask questions later the LAPD has, by this time, built up a no-nonsense reputation but Exley is determined to bring about swift justice the old-fashioned way, the way of his father. When he is put in a situation fending for his life the tables are soon turned and allying with White and Vincennes they collaborate to bring down a corruption scandal involving the LAPD, the DA, local businessmen and, how should I put this, movie stars of the night?
More than just a whodunnit L.A. Confidential is an interesting character study with cool sweeping tones of 50s jazz. Previous attempts to bring noir into the modern age found success in Chinatown but some twenty years later there was little to fill the market. In recent years period crime dramas have hit our screens to significant praise, Lawless and Public Enemies come to mind as well as the heavily L.A. Confidential influenced Rockstar video game L.A. Noire.
Curtis Hanson set the bar high with this mystery crime drama that gives the once spry film noir a new lease of life and will continue to inspire the neo-noir genre for years to come as it becomes more and more popular with modern directors. Hanson proves with this Must-see that a heavy dose of perseverance combined with a sturdy set of wings are necessary to fly in the city of angels and confirm your place in the Hollywood archives.
* * * *