Originally written for The Occidental.
Sick and tired of the fluff Hollywood has been turning out lately? Ready for a movie that will keep you on the edge of your seat and challenge you brain? LA Confidential does both and more, and is well worth the price of admission.
This is a difficult film to review, not only because of its many strong points, but because it is so complex. From the beginning, which side characters are on is increasingly unclear, and I can’t say very much without giving vital plot twists away.
Where can I start? The story is both complex and coherent. The acting is superb. The violence is not gratuitous (a pleasant change from usual theatre fare), and every plot thread is woven into the tapestry of the whole without missing a single beat.
As the film opens, the audience is introduced to the three main characters: Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), Bud White (Russell Crowe), and Ed Exley (Guy Pearce). They all seem clear cut — Vincennes is a slick cop working as a technical advisor on a show called Badge of Honor (a Dragnet clone). Bud White is blunt, not too bright, and has a thing about wife beaters. Exley is a clean-cut, all-American boy out to prove himself. All three fit nicely into the stereotypes of police officers Hollywood has shown us in the past.
Simple, right? Wrong. AS the plot unfolds and we meet the supporting cast of characters (which includes Danny DeVito, Kim Basinger, and James Cromwell), each of our heroes begins to show other sides of himself. Vincennes really does care about catching crooks. White is a lot smarter than anyone (including himself) thinks. Exley is a politician in cops’ clothing. In the two and a half hours that follow, they are all challenged to look long and hard at themselves as they try to solve a case that just keeps revealing new layers as outer ones are peeled off — and the core seems increasingly rotten.
With a lesser cast, a film like this would be dead in the water — but Crowe, Pearce, and Spacey are all subtle actors and carry their roles naturally. Each is able to show a wealth of emotion in a slight change of expression, and more importantly, the are able to show the character they are talking to one thing, while letting the audience know they are thinking something entirely different.
The supporting cast is excellent as well, which is vital in a film in which every glance has a hidden meaning and what looks like a throw-away line can turn out to have far-reaching consequences. The second time I saw LA Confidential, I was amazed — not only was I not in the least bored, I saw new things in every scene. The motives of the characters became clearer, and everything took on new meaning. I can’t say more without giving the plot away, but I can say this: pay attention, and don’t get a huge Coke — even a three-minute trip to the restroom can cause you to miss some vital scenes (it sure did for me!).
Aside from the writing and acting, what impressed me most was the careful use of violence. This is not a pretty film, either morally or physically, but the violence is only as gruesome as necessary, no more. In an age where eye-popping, gut-wrenching nastiness is the norm, it was a refreshing change.
So the bottom line is: LA Confidential is a terrific film — but not one to see if you want mindless fluff.