L.A. Confidential – a modern noir masterpiece from Curtis Hanson

Director Curtis Hanson’s thrilling L.A. CONFIDENTIAL is a modern noir masterpiece.

It’s way past time for a JSHmoviestuff post to celebrate this film from director Curtis Hanson and so let me hand over to Danny De Vito’s terrific wheeler-dealer journalist Sid Hudgens for a celebratory review of a modern masterpiece – L.A. CONFIDENTIAL:

“You heard it here first, dear readers. Off the record, on the QT and very Hush-Hush.”

James Cromwell, Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey in L.A. Confidential

James Cromwell, Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey are the cops on this dangerous beat

It’s just over 15 years now since director Curtis Hanson collaborated with writer Brian Helgeland to bring us this extraordinary film version of James Ellroy’s sprawling, majestic crime novel L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. Set in early 1950’s Los Angeles, we follow the journeys of three very different cops – Russell Crowe’s conflicted Officer Bud White, whose use of violence to get the job done is leaving an increasingly bitter taste in his mouth; Kevin Spacey’s silver-tongued Sgt. Jack Vincennes, who’s in danger of losing more than his badge for another celebrity bust; and Guy Pearce’s idealistic and politically savvy Sgt. Ed Exley, who is finding out that living up to his famous cop father’s name won’t bring him what he thought he desired.

With corruption and violence filling the streets, these three cops realise they may have to work together in order to solve an increasingly labyrinthine murder mystery, which involves David Strathairn’s slippery businessman Pierce Patchett, Danny De Vito’s aforementioned Hush Hush gossip magazine’s Sid Hudgens and Kim Basinger’s deservedly Oscar-winning call-girl Lynn Bracken. But they know that on their side, they can rely on both the eminent District Attorney Lowe (a smoothly efficient Ron Rifkin) and the authoritative police Captain Dudley Smith (a commandingly cool James Cromwell) right?

‘Everything is suspect…everyone is for sale…and nothing is what it seems’ is the movie’s tagline and something our three heroes painfully come to realise.

Kim Basinger as Lynn Bracken in L.A. Confidential

Kim Basinger is an Oscar-winning Lynn Bracken

The city of angels looks stunning, courtesy of Dante Spinotti’s glorious cinematography and Jerry Goldsmith’s score hits just the right period note. It’s all top stuff from director Hanson, who blew everyone away with this movie, I think. His previous work, including the Hitchcockian drama The Bedroom Window and thrillers The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and The River Wild, were all very well realised but he moved into a different league with this film.

Here you have a perfect fusion of great writing (Helgeland and Hanson were rightly awarded Oscars for their screenplay), incredible acting (Russell Crowe gives a tough and tender performance that’s one of his best, Kevin Spacey achieves a heroic gravitas that’s spellbinding to watch and Guy Pearce is just mesmerising throughout – the look on his face in the last shot is quite exceptional and one I always find breathtakingly tragic) and a story that’s so rich, it rewards countless repeat viewings.

Curtis Hanson continued his purple patch of terrific movies after this with Wonder Boys, 8 Mile and In Her Shoes but L.A. CONFIDENTIAL remains something special. If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for such a treat; if you have, I hope you agree with me that it fully deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as that other great modern noir Chinatown.