LA Confidential Movie Review (1997)

Directed by : Curtis Hanson
Written by : James Ellroy, Brian Helgeland, Curtis Hanson
Starring : Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, Kevin Spacey

Based on one of the LA Quartet novels by the brilliant and disturbed James Ellroy. Set in the 1950’s and centered around the sordid history of California and the corrupt history of the LAPD in particular; Ellroy’s novels are noted for their dense plotting and jazzed up writing style, ripe then for editing into tight screenplays. Benefiting from a great cast, many in only minor roles, Basinger was the only one to benefit at Oscar time but in truth all leads deserved one each. Though the plot is very complex and the main characters so nuanced (no good/bad or black/white here) they are so well drawn, real and absorbing that we take an interest in the story and are carried along on this brutal sordid but thoroughly entertaining ride.

The story basically concerns the relationships of three very different cops to their Captain of Detectives Dudley Smith (Cromwell) and with each other, each ruled by radically different agendas; Jack Vincennes (Spacey) the mildly corrupt TV cop show and celebrity rag consultant; Bud White (Crowe) violent corrupt but decent cop; Ed Exley (Pearse) handsome by the book hero with family ties to LAPD but a colossal pain in the butt. In the end most characters reach redemption through a combination of the realisation of the corrosive affect of pervasive corruption on others but more importantly on themselves and the self-loathing that it generates.

Throw racism, corrupt officials, gangland killings, police brutality, sex scandals and torture into the mix, where no one is as they seem…literally in the case of a stable of prostitutes made up to look like film stars. The film works not because it tries to copy the book, probably Ellroys most complex, but because what it does take it uses effectively to give us the essence of each character. The use of period music, bang on costume design, selective architecture all add up to a seamless evocation of 50’s Los Angeles.

I think LA CONFIDENTIAL stands as a testament to how good a movie can be when all the elements gel, for all the personnel involved this rates easily as their best work by far. It is a great movie that can be mentioned in the same breath as that other great drama of LA in the 50’s, CHINATOWN with as much narrative twists and period punch as that acclaimed movie. High praise indeed. Share your views about this movie in Comments.

MoviesCrunch Rating – 8/10

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