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With: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, Ron Rifkin
Written by: Curtis Hanson, Brian Helgeland, based on a novel by James Ellroy
Directed by: Curtis Hanson
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language, and for sexuality
Running Time: 138
Date: 14/05/1997

L.A. Confidential (1997)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

On the QT

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy L.A. Confidential: Special Edition on DVD

In some cases, a filmmaker can live an entire career by flipping a coin. Curtis Hanson has been working steadily in Hollywood for over 20 years, with nothing but exploitative thrillers and 'B' movies -- his coin had come up tails. Now, in 1997, he has finally hit heads.

L.A. Confidential is a big, long movie, full of great costumes and sets. You could call it a huge epic, but it's also a scrappy movie, full of energy as well as style. The movie gets to us through three fully-rounded characters that, in a lesser movie, would have teetered into stereotypes. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a slick cop who has a job on the side as a "consultant" to the TV show "Badge of Honor," (read: "Dragnet"). He uses his Hollywood connections and the media for his own image and advancement. Bud White (Russell Crowe) is the no-nonsense cop who is willing to break a few rules to get justice done. (To him, justice is more important than law). Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is the by-the-book character (to him, law is more important than justice) who is not above ratting out his colleagues if the "book" tells him to.

The screenplay by Hanson and Brian Helgeland -- based on James Ellroy's novel -- has these three characters twisting in and around the same case, a gangland slaying in an all-night coffee shop. Their varied approaches and their clashing interactions are what make the movie click.

Danny DeVito adds spice to the movie as the writer of Hush-Hush, a gossip magazine not unlike the National Enquirer. He narrates the film with his peppery language, and adds a layer of humor and cynicism to the movie. The movie's biggest drawback is that DeVito gets killed with 30 minutes left. Kim Basinger has the best role of her career as Lynn Bracken, part of a mafia organization of hookers cut to look like stars (Basinger looks like Veronica Lake). She screens This Gun for Hire in her house for her clients, so they can see the resemblance. She is a great Chandler-esque character who may know more than she lets on. James Cromwell plays the kindly Irish police chief who also may know more than he lets on.

The unraveling of the complex plot is part of the fun, so I won't try to give it away. The last 30 minutes of this long (138 minute) movie tends to fall into standard humorless shoot-outs, but it's not enough to kill the movie's spirit. L.A. Confidential has the same kind of freshness as Carl Franklin's underrated Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) and John Dahl's noirs Red Rock West and The Last Seduction. In other words, it's not just a tribute or a remake. It's something new.

DVD Details: In 2008, Warner Home Video replaced their clunky, old 1998 DVD edition with a deluxe, two-disc edition featuring lots of great features. An overwhelming commentary track features bits and pieces from just about everyone involved in the film, as well as film critic Andrew Sarris. There are a ton of featurettes, an "interactive map," the entire TV pilot (from 2003, starring Kiefer Sutherland), and other stuff. A third disc is a mini-CD soundtrack with six great songs from the movie. Also available on Blu-Ray.

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