Saturday, March 23, 2013
(September 1997, U.S.)
Curtis Hanson's film of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL was not the first time Hollywood had attempted a modern-day return to classic neo-noir in cinema. At least two previous attempts, DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (1995) and MULLHOLLAND FALLS (1996) had failed to gain any recognition with the public and with the box office. Hanson's project was quite risky, at best, because it was not only based on an original novel by James Ellroy that was considered difficult to translate to film, but it also starred virtual unknowns (Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito being the exceptions) at the time. It not only worked perfectly, but it was (and still is!) one of the ten best films of the 1990s, in my opinion.
Set against the backdrop of Los Angeles in the year 1953, three LAPD officers become caught up in corruption, sex and murder following a multiple homicide at the Nite Owl coffee shop. Their story expands to encompass organized crime, political corruption, narcotics, pornography, prostitution, tabloid journalism and institutional racism. You see? Turns out the 1950s weren't as innocent as "the Beaver" lead us to believe! Again, unknowns at the time, Russell Crowe as Officer Wendell "Bud" White, Guy Pearce as Sergeant Ed Exley and Kevin Spacey as Sergeant Jack Vincennes are absolutely nothing short of miraculous in their roles and their character development as men you actually care about. With virtually nothing in common at first, the crimes and the cases of the film slowly draw them into each other as each one of their professional roles as cops slowly merge with each other. In their own way, each one of them is very corrupt, and yet the three of them never fail to remember the reason they became cops was to ultimately serve and protect. Bud White, being the most brutal and vicious in his methods of law enforcement is also a man who clearly has the biggest heart. It shows not only in his protective tendencies toward battered women, but also in the rather simple and innocent love he feels for Lynn Bracken (played by Kim Basinger), a Veronica Lake look-alike prostitute with ties to the case he and Ed Exley are independently investigating. Love is a dangerous game, though, when it's mixed up with prostitution, pornography and murder. And speaking of murder...well, what can I say? There's plenty of it to go around in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. By the time the film is over, just about every secondary character is dead. But being this is a police story at heart, cliche ultimately dictates that the good guys will win in the end and love will triumph. They do.
For a traditional crime film, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL unusually deals with the psychology of the main characters. While containing all the elements of traditional police action, it's brought to the screen in a more sharply clipped style and provides an arena for the personalities to grab hold of the viewer's interest. But aside from the actors themselves, the nostalgic city of Los Angeles shines as a big star itself. Just like Roman Polanski's depiction of 1930's Los Angeles in CHINATOWN (1974), the atmosphere and closely-detailed production design are a truly rich element where the strands of narrative form are obvious to those who can recognize the nostalga of classic film noir...except this time it's in color. It's also very safe to say that the film is not necessarily an easy one to follow along the way. As the viewer, you're asked to pay strict attention to the double-crossing intricacies of the plot. However, the reward for your two hours plus work is not only the dark and dirty fun you experience, but also the satisfaction of having been made a part of it all, particularly when you take some time afterwards to realize just how it all comes together in the end. Then you watch it again, and again, and again...and that, my friends, is where the real love for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL takes over and pays off.
Now here's a story for you. I went to see L.A. CONFIDENTIAL when it opened in 1997 at a small neighborhood movie theater in Southampton, New York. I went with an old female acquaintance. While we were sitting in the theater, who do we happen to see walk in but legendary actor Roy Scheider and his wife! Now get this - the girl I'm with just happens to tell me that many years prior, she had been nanny to Roy Scheider's kids when he was living in Los Angeles during the shooting of his television series SEA QUEST. Well, not being one who would waste coincidental information like THAT, I begged her to introduce me to him when the movie was over. She did. We had a short, but pleasant conversation outside the theater. In one particular moment that I'll never forget, I told Mr. Scheider that I was an architect and he seemed genuinely impressed. Holy shit! I'm standing here talking with the star of THE FRENCH CONNECTION and JAWS and he's impressed with ME?? What can I say? That's one of life's very rare celebrity moments that you never forget. And no, I did NOT say, "You're gonna need a bigger boat!" to him! I'm not that stupid! So thanks so much, Roy. You were truly one of the greats! Rest in peace.
(Oh, and my thanks to Kim Basinger and her cleavage for making a real great movie poster!)
And so, let me just conclude that while I have nothing but love and respect for James Cameron's TITANIC, it's L.A. CONFIDENTIAL that should have won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1997, in my humble and authoritative opinion!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ed Exley: "A hooker cut to look like Lana Turner is still a hooker! She just looks like Lana Turner!"
Jack Vincennes: "She IS Lana Turner."
Jack: "She IS Lana Turner."