Eye For Film >> Movies >> L.A. Confidential (1997) Film Review
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
Californian crime writers, from Chandler to Mosley, are master plotters and wizards of dialogue. L.A. Confidential has James Ellroy to thank for a labyrinthine tale that makes Mulholland Falls look like a Tupperware party. It doesn't have the delicacy of Devil In A Blue Dress, preferring film noir pastiche.
At first it seems a collection of disparate incidents, occurring concurrently, with no connection, narrated by Danny DeVito's tabloid magazine hack in a wisecracking Hollywood patois. Later, approaching the second hour, everything is revealed as being part of a whole, belonging in one way or another to the City of Angels's Fifties gloss.
Essentially a cop show, it covers drug barons, call girls, pretty boys murdered in motel rooms, film star glamour, contract killing, political shenanigans and death - lots of death.
"Don't start trying to do the right thing, boyo," the Irish police captain tells one of his detectives. "You haven't had the practice."
The art of survival in the LAPD is to understand that justice means what the other guy wants it to mean, depending where the money is and who's handling the weaponry.
Ellroy's plot pulls the movie out of its stylistic pose to give the actors a chance to make something of their characters. Kevin Spacey is the showbiz cop who stays sweet with the Sunset crowd. Russell Crowe is the muscle who beats up abusive husbands in his spare time and is so angry flames flicker at the base of his eyeballs. Guy Pearce is the college kid who wants to honour the memory of his father, slain in the line of duty, by becoming an honourable law enforcement officer. Kim Basinger is a Veronica Lake repro who indulges the fantasies of the rich and powerful.
What is unexpected in this self-conscious pander to the cult of genre cinema is the violence. It lacks the dignity of constraint. Crowe's naked fury leaves a vivid impression, as does the heartless disloyalty of an aspiring drug tsar. Great moments are offset by insalubrious ones.
Los Angeles in the Lana Turner era seems as morally defunct as Chinatown. The film embraces the cliches of a thousand crime thrillers, while making them look fresh.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001