Movie Review | L.A. Confidential
Movie summary: As corruption grows in 1950s Los Angeles, three policemen - one strait-laced, one brutal, and one sleazy - investigate a series of murders with their own brand of justice. (IMDb)
Some movies can feel longer than they are and some can fly by, feeling much shorter. L.A. Confidential manages the unique trick of feeling like both. Because of its three central characters of Bud White (Russell Crowe), Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) and Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) having their own story-lines, some plots feel like they're put on hold to allow others to catch up.
This results in what is my only criticism of this movie, which is that it's very oddly-paced. At one point it slowed down so much that I checked how long was left and felt both surprised and disappointed that it still had just over an hour to go. Then, what felt like half an hour later, the movie was over thanks to the finale more than making up for the slower moments.
It was only that one point that felt so slow too. There was a bit of 'setting the stage' for the finale that just didn't quite work and only stands out because of just how good the rest of L.A. Confidential is. It was a genuine surprise that there were any slow moments at all because of just how much is packed in here, with enough story and character material to last a TV show a full season.
And it wouldn't be too hard for a TV show to replicate either, with the majority of the story taking place indoors and yet the movie still manages to make every part of it feel like there's a fully-realised Fifties version of Los Angeles right outside. The cinematic story-telling skill required to pull off this feeling is rare and director Curtis Hanson does it so well that makes this movie feel that little bit more special.
I'm sure there must some anachronistic elements that fans of the setting may notice, but to someone who isn't familiar with the period - like me - everything feels like a natural part of the world that the story takes place in despite the wide array of characters encountered, from the glamorous, rich and powerful to those who... well, are the opposite.
Just take Kim Basinger as Lynn Bracken, looking every inch the big screen fantasy woman Lynn is supposed to look like. Not to ignore Basinger's incredible performance, but she looks absolutely stunning and not a hair out of place, contrasted with the blood and bullets that punctuate L.A. Confidential with shocking regularity and the resultant mess they make.
The world is so convincing that you can go from perfection to ruin from one scene to the next and yet it never feels like one doesn't belong in a movie with the other. It's such a great balancing act and really highlights how many movies made in the near quarter-century since only take the one tone, or will deliberately contrast one extreme with the other to highlight the differences rather than pointing out that, just like real life, beauty and blood are mainstays of 'normality' every day.
All of this world-building would be useless without people to inhabit, so it's a pretty good thing that L.A. Confidential's cast is filled with great actors giving stellar performances. There's the aforementioned Basinger of course, who deservedly won an Oscar for her role, but everything really revolves around the three detectives we follow - and their relationship with Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell).
Russell Crowe's White is the Beast to Lynn's Beauty, a savagely physical man with more smarts than many of his colleagues would ever imagine; Spacey's Vincennes who is obsessed with the glitz and bright lights of Hollywood, but whose conscience leads to him risking everything; and Pearce's Exley, in possession of a brilliant political mind with which to advance his career, yet coming to realise that action can often speak much, much louder than words - especially when using shotguns.
Vincennes probably gets the short straw of the three detectives, thanks to getting in over his head even though he doesn't know it until too late, but is still great fun to have around despite Spacey's off-screen behaviour tarnishing pretty much every performance he's ever given. He's also missing one key link to White and Exley, which is Lynn.
There isn't a love triangle or anything like that between her and the two detectives, but Lynn isn't in any position to refuse when told to set White and Exley against each other. The two men have almost opposite arcs to each other across the movie, eventually coming to realise that there is much to admire and respect about their different approaches to police work even if they are fundamentally different people.
One last word for James Cromwell as Dudley, who has a different relationship with each of them and is experienced enough to handle the three detectives in ways that makes his methods not immediately apparent to any of them. It might be because I haven't seen too many of his movies, but Cromwell is absolutely fantastic in the role and unlike anything I've seen him in elsewhere.
In case you couldn't guess, I love L.A. Confidential and will happily recommend it to anyone and everyone. It looks amazing, the soundtrack is great, the characters are just as good and that slight lull where the story is setting up the finale can't detract from what is a pretty damn good story too. Oh, and it's stupidly relevant, not shying away in the slightest from showing just how filled with corruption American police forces can be - even the 'good' ones.
L.A. Confidential is almost perfect, with only a brief spell of shuffling everything into place for the climax stopping it from getting there. The look and sound of the movie is amazing, the characters are excellent, and the three intertwining story-lines involving the central trio are great, with brilliant performances to match. A must-watch movie.