Tuesday, August 4, 2015

L.A. Confidential (1997)

(SLBW - April 15, 2012)
Director: Curtis Hanson, Writers: James Ellroy (novel), Brian Helgeland (screenplay), and Curtis Hanson. Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, and David Strathairn.


Three Los Angeles police officers: Detective Wendell "Bud" White (Crowe), Detective Jack Vincennes (Spacey) and Sergeant Edmund Exley (Pearce), are caught up in various seemingly unconnected story lines that weave into an intricate tale where a historical event "Bloody Christmas" where LAPD cops beat a bunch of Mexicans up sets the tone for the whole film.

Smith, White, Exley, Vincennes

An opening montage, explains that underneath the glowing assumption that California/LA is the land of milk & honey a mobster named Mickey Cohen has taken over the organized crime rackets in Los Angeles (vacated by the departure of Bugsy Siegel)  Cohen, however, is arrested on income tax evasion and sent to prison on MacNeil Island in Washington state, leaving a power vacuum and the rackets he'd expanded for years are up for grabs. Gangland style assassinations begin as someone begins to take over. The police, led by Captain Dudley (Cromwell), intercept  various wiseguys moving in to take over from out of state beat the shit out of them.

A rich developer, Pierce Patchett (Strathairn), on the side runs a stable of high-class hookers out a a club called the Fleur-de-lis who are cut by plastic surgery to look like movie stars.

Sid Hudgens (DeVito), publisher of "Hush-Hush," a Hollywood sleaze magazine, is in cahoots with Vincennes setting up celebrity busts for headlines and kickbacks. Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) is one of the Fleur-de-lis girls who is a dead ringer for Veronica Lake who falls for White.

I discovered James Ellroy's L.A. Quartet series of novels, The Black Dahlia (1987), The Big Nowhere (1988), L.A. Confidential (1990), and White Jazz (1992) while living in Montana after a sort of cold turkey I experienced when I had devoured all of the Dashiell Hammett's, James M. Cain's, Ross MacDonald's, and Raymond Chandler's I could at that time get my hands on. They were all great reads, but unfortunately, this was before I really began to appreciate Film Noir and get a stylistic visual from those series of films of the world Ellroy was depicting.

Of course I had seen "The Maltese Falcon", "The Big Sleep", "Double Indemnity" and "Murder My Sweet" but they were made before the neo-realistic phase of the Noir series so they didn't really count.  L.A. Confidential according to Curtis Hanson was an attempt to depict '50's LA but not in a stylistically noir way, "no long shadows" so they consciously decided to show the '50's looking forward towards the future rather than highlight Film Noir. He needn't have bothered, the widescreen alone effectively negates the claustrophobic noir stylistic. Noirs were mostly about urban alienation and obsession, the majority of urban topography is vertical which suited the 3:4 aspect ratio well.

But, what L..A Confidential does is incorporate Los Angeles' overall elongated horizontal urban structure into an effective neo noir.  A plus is that the film even incorporates more actual 50's LA locations and interiors than for example the film Chinatown (story line circa 1930's) did, though this could be for the simple fact that way less 30's LA was still extant in 1973 than 50's LA in 1996. What locations they didn't have they reconstructed and the blend is seamless. The film looks that good.

The action sequences are great. The sountrack and period music juxtaposition is excellent.

Even with all this stated attempt to shy away from classic noir stylistics they do creep into the film here and there with dutch angles and Venetian blinds.

whats not to like:

However one glaring WTF omission is what I like to call the "romance of the fedora" aside from the DeVitos' character Sid Hudgens and James Cromwell's Dudley Smith, fedoras are absent, missing in action. It just doesn't feel quite right, it would be sort of on par with making a Western without cowboy hats, the characters look naked. -1

DeVito sporting one of the few fedoras

Ok I can understand somewhat where Hanson is coming from in a commentary he states that he wanted to make a film that didn't feel like a period piece because he was concerned about getting funding, but you could at least have had 1/4 of the cast wear fedoras and one of the leads. The Author James Ellroy on his commentary on the DVD for Crime Wave "Sterling Hayden-- That is my Bud White. That is my Bud White! fuck Russell Crowe in 'L A Confidential.' I mean he was okay, but he's a shrimpy little shit  Bud White as Bud Whites go. Sterling Hayden is the real deal. Look at this! He's not even acting. Look at that hat!" 'nuff said.

The Lynn Bracken/Bud White romance wasn't all that convincing didn't seem to be any chemistry there it needed more time to get fleshed out at least.

If this film really wanted to be a neo noir masterpiece it didn't have confidence or the nerve to push that envelope, Hanson's reluctance to embrace Noir and go with the safe money gives us at the denouement the happy Hollywood ending. The bad guys are all dead and 2/3 of the good guys live. -1 final score 8/10

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