Movie Review: L.A. Confidential (1997)

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’ harddrive.

We’ve had this on our to-watch list for a while but every time it came up we either weren’t in the mood or didn’t have the time for it. But now the time has come, and I’ve seen L.A. Confidential. Yep. Based on James Ellroy’s novel, the film follows three very different police officers hanging around 1950’s Los Angeles. The murder of a corrupt detective and a sex worker during a diner robbery launches a multifaceted investigation that eventually uncovers a number of seedy underbellies- drugs, homicide, prostitution, blackmail, etc. Three officers- the naive but opportunistic Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), the brutish but sentimental Bud White (Russell Crowe), and the smarmy but mildly ethical Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey)- open their own separate cases that unexpectedly come together in violent, tragic ways.

Sooooo. This movie is kind of a big deal, I was aware of that, and while I didn’t know many details about it I guess I had high expectations just because it’s so famous and respected and awarded. I did like it, but I didn’t love it, and I guess I’ll have to explain myself here. The thing about L.A. Confidential, for me, is that it feels too familiar, too derivative. It’s pulling from these film noir classics and positioning itself as a stylish period piece updating the genre for a 90’s audience, and there’s value in that, but the path is well-trod and the movie didn’t bring anything especially novel to the proceedings. I thought the cast was great, the costumes were gorgeous, the script was good, and the setting was compelling, but the story itself is jumbled and the mystery isn’t very compelling. Certain aspects of the film were fascinating to me- the ultra-secret sex club with women made to look like famous stars, the Latina woman who lies to the cops so that her rapists will be punished, the obsession with image and celebrity prevalent in the police department- but as a whole it didn’t quite do it for me.

It’s still a pretty cool movie, mostly for the great cast. Kevin Spacey is the easy standout, all greasy self-obsession and twisted moral compass and pal’ing around with an even slimier Danny DeVito, but he’s also the one with the least amount of screen time. Guy Pearce is looking SHARP in his spectacles even if everyone keeps making him take them off (which is SO dumb, how the hell is he supposed to do detective work and, like, SHOOT?) and I liked how his character starts off all high-and-mighty but finds himself betraying his own conscience to uncover some darkness within himself. Of the three leads, Russell Crowe is the weakest, but that’s partially because his character is so boring and cookie-cutter. Like a dumb guy with a savior complex because his mom was abused, and that’s his entire personality. Ok. We spent the whole movie imagining he was a literal bear and it made him much more interesting. And funny. James Cromwell is good but he could not keep his accent down, like it oscillated between super-Irish to nonspecific American in different scenes and it was way distracting. Kim Basinger, so dominant on almost all the poster art, is a secondary character, but since she’s basically the only woman with more than one line of dialogue I guess they wanted to promote that anyone in the movie was female. She’s good though, shifting between hard-edged sex worker and kind-hearted romantic, and really pulling off the Veronica Lake look.

Anyway, this movie is ok but I’m not going to pretend like I found it special or even particularly memorable. It’s very well-made and oozes confidence, but it’s too reminiscent of other films for me to be wowed by it.


Pair This Movie With: Obviously Chinatown. I mean, this movie definitely wanted to be the next Chinatown, right?

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