“L.A. Confidential” is the closest thing to a classic cop movie you could imagine, a throwback to a few decades ago. I mean, these days, movies seem more fond of gangsters. The only cop movies we see are big action comedies à la “Lethal Weapon”. Maybe that’s why this film is set in the 50s, in and around Hollywood, as the respectable image of the region hides a lot of dirt. Some people are aware of the shit that’s going on, like Sid Hudgens (Danny De Vito), the editor of Hush Hush, a tabloid from the era. Hudgens narrates part of the movie, updating the audience with his special knowledge of people’s lives. But the spotlight is more on the LAPD, especially the men under Officer Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). There’s Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), a cool cop who loves to hang in the big crowds. Then there’s Bud White (Russell Crowe), a much tougher kind of police officer, who ain’t afraid to bend the law to break a case. He’s one hard-boiled cop, and he uses brutality as much as needed. Finally there’s the younger Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), who at first believes firmly that justice can be served but soon finds out that crooks are everywhere, even among the force that’s supposed to fight crime.
This is an extremely well written film based on the James Ellroy novel of the same name. Hence, like in a book, there are tons of characters and subplots, to the point where it takes almost the entire film to figure out what the hell’s up. It’s like, all these things happen, all these twists you know, but it’s not all structured like a regular screenplay. There’s something about the mobster Mickey Cohen who, now in jail, must be replaced if organized crime wants to survive in Los Angeles. Then there’s a bloodbath that takes place at the Nite Owl in which a cop was killed. Then there’s Pierce Patchett (Davis Strathairn), a millionaire who’s rumored to pimp prostitutes cut up to look like celebrities, such as Lynn (Kim Basinger), a dazzling blonde who looks like Veronica Lake. I can’t really say more without spoiling the pleasure of this smart film. The screenplay won a well deserved Oscar for Best Adaptation.
It was directed by Curtis Hanson, who doesn’t really have an impressive résumé behind him but he does have talent. He achieves to follow many characters and situations without really losing track. The storytelling is interesting, and the visuals are great. The story takes place in the 50s, and the period recreation is mesmerizing, yet it doesn’t overshadow the film. The story is the most important thing, along with the characters, which are brilliantly interpreted by an exceptional cast. I always liked Kevin Spacey, and he’s great here. I like the way he almost always is on the verge of a smile, as if he was waiting to be on TV. Russel Crowe also delivers a memorable performance. He kicks ass, but he also has a softer side. Then there’s newcomer Guy Pearce, who seems kinda stiff at first but his facade breaks as the plot advances. In smaller roles, there’s James Cromwell, in a role soooo different from the farmer he played in Babe, as well as Danny De Vito who’s as fun and likable as usual.
In the end, this truly is the best cop movie of the decade. I highly recommend it to anyone who can handle not understanding everything at once.