At the Movies with Alan Gekko: L.A. Confidential “97”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Neo-Noir Crime/ Stars: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, Ron Rifkin, Graham Beckel, Amber Smith, John Mahon, Paul Guilfoyle, Matt McCoy, Paolo Seganti, Simon Baker Denny, Tomas Arana, Michael McCleery, Shawnee Free Jones, Darrell Sandeen, Marisol Padilla Sánchez, Gwenda Deacon, Jim Metzler, Brenda Bakke/Runtime: 138 minutes

I think it is safe to say that even as women of all ages began crying buckets upon buckets of tears at the conclusion of James Cameron’s 1997 Titanic, I too cried just as much if not more when that film was awarded Best Picture at that year’s Oscars thus leaving a quartet of infinitely better slices of cinematic pie in the forms of As Good As It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting and, incidentally the film I am reviewing today, L.A. Confidential all literally looking like they just got absolutely bamboozled in the process. Now I am not saying that I can begin to even try and fathom just what goes through Oscar voters’ minds when they choose such things and typically I do not, as a general rule, like putting one Oscar-nodded movie over the one that came away with the win or other nominees for that matter, but in this case I do feel a slight urge to intervene and put in my proverbial pair of pennies on the matter. I say that because practically every ingredient in this film from its’ scorching screenplay, the top-notch work in front of the camera, and even the cinematography which is truly gorgeous to behold really do start making things a little bit head scratching in attempting to figure out just why this film wasn’t able to be the proverbial iceberg to sink James Cameron’s film come that magical night at the Oscars. Indeed as an example of filmmaking known as the ensemble picture it is a truly brilliant example, as a three-fold character analysis it’s iconic, and as a period movie it is a riveting look at the dark side of an era of time that was seemingly tranquil and idyllic in equal measure. Make no mistake dear reader I have immense love and respect for what the cast and crew of Titanic was able to achieve for each and every movie goer out there, but I still also feel it should be said that L.A. Confidential is one of the finest films of the decade known as the 90s and one that I can easily recommend with no qualms and no regrets…

The plot is as follows: Based on writer James Ellroy’s novel, L.A. Confidential is a sprawling look at the mixing and mingling of a trinity of cops in the LAPD during the 50s comprised of Bud White a quick-to-anger slab of muscle whose loyalty to his bosses knows no limit, Edmund Exley who is a confident up-and-comer whose following the rules to the letter often gets him looked down upon by his fellow officers, and Jack Vincennes a smug and slightly arrogant yet gifted detective who is also a consultant to a popular criminal procedural on TV who begin to wonder if a multiple homicide at a local coffee shop might in fact be connected to other things of an illegal nature. Yet even though Vincennes is initially very reluctant to pursue the matter even further and White just seems lost in his own little world, Exley decides to move ahead on the matter and in the process manages to close the case….or so he assumes. I say that because it isn’t long before Exley uncovers more evidence that suggests the murders may not have been so cut and dry thus finally leading to a covert investigation both together and separately by our trinity of protagonists to try and figure out just what really happened and who really is responsible.

Yet in a twist that plot synopsis is one that just simply covers the main narrative that this film presents us with dear reader. I say that because while that is all going on we also get storylines featuring an utterly delightful Danny DeVito as a mile a minute La La Land paparazzi-style reporter by the name of Sid Hudgens who slips one of our heroes some money every now and then to set up the arrest of celebrities around Tinseltown for his pulpy magazine, Kim Basinger, who incidentally acquired an Oscar for her role in this, is a lovely yet guarded lady of the night who gets intimately involved with 2 of our intrepid heroes, James Cromwell is here as a police captain who may or may not have a secret of his own, David Strathairn shows up as a high-dollar pimp whose trademark is having the girls in his employ made to look like famous actresses, and Ron Rifkin is an equal measure shifty yet also snooty District Attorney who, of course, knows way more than he would ever dare like to admit, and who is comfortable sneering at our heroes one minute and then begging and pleading to not be killed the next. Thus, with the vast majority of characters in this riveting saga having been introduced, I can now make you a promise. A promise that says by the time this film ends, blood will pour, coffins will be occupied (oftentimes with those you don’t expect), and those who are still around will have little to no choice, but to keep trying to survive in a hostile, cold, and unfriendly world that is often on the DL yet always on the hush hush….

Now regardless of the vast collection of both characters as well as their respective arcs in this film, this film’s screenplay is so wonderfully sculpted and so accurate and detailed in regards to plot and dialogue that you could be forgiven for not seeing just how intricate and complicated this movie’s narrative truly is. Also to this film’s immense credit is the fact that the encounters our trinity of officers have with each other never feel unnatural in any way to say nothing of how their dislike for each other is readily apparent and their reluctance to have each other’s backs is riveting even though we can tell that the truth about each of them is they are genuinely good at their job as well as that they are all, at heart, decent men who are having a hard time trying to make their way in a police force where everyone is either a murderer, on the take, or oftentimes both. Thus, I can easily say that our trinity of leads in the forms of Spacey, Crowe, and Pearce all manage to do wonderful work in this and manage to feel more like legit police officers of the era rather than 90s actors portraying cops from that era right down to the showcasing of the various personality flaws that each of these men find themselves facing to say nothing of their immense dislike of having their commitment to the job being questioned. Yes I should also point out that the film and the actors do take distinct artistic liberties with the source material, but in my opinion this is one time where that aids rather than detracts from the movie.  That is because whilst the novel often sacrifices ethos due to enjoying the exposition and atmosphere a lot more, this film’s helmer and the truly brilliant trinity of lead actors assembled all choose to spend their time with each character and their distinct subtleties that define each man whilst also peeling away the layers of their souls and then immersing itself in the darkness that lies just under the surface.

Now with that being said, I should also note that another big plus at play in this is the fact that the film’s helmer and his director of photography both do a wonderful job in rarely giving in to the typical genre conventions that used to exist thus managing to conjure up a more real look at what 1950s L.A. might have looked like in the hands of a film craftsman who was….not as skilled shall we say? I mean in all fairness, this dynamic duo behind the camera still do utilize both heavy shadow and soft light in order to best showcase this time period, but they also don’t really use a lot of time toward recreating the look or vibe of a typical entry in the crime noir genre and instead choose to focus on authentically recreating the era instead. To that end, we see that the camera doesn’t stalk its actors through the various set pieces, but instead manages to anticipate not only their arrival, but also their thoughts and emotions before they showcase them to you, the viewer. As a result this ingenious effect, when partnered up with the wonderful performances in this film, is so powerful that you literally find yourself able to all but read the minds of the film’s distinct cast of characters and put together clues and figure things out as if you are the one investigating this heinous case. Not only that, but every slug to the gut lands with an impact that feels earned, revelations are a true surprise, and the twists when they come are genuinely and organically astonishing. Indeed despite the use of voice over narration a few places, the rapid-fire dialogue, and the placing of the characters as if they were pieces on a chess board, this film is so believable that I would completely understand if you thought this was a film that was based on actual events. In fact even I, after seeing this film the very first time a million and one years ago, found myself researching further courtesy of the Internet as well as mystical tomes of knowledge known as books (gasp) to try and see how much of this story was based in any way on events which actually occurred.

All in all I really do find myself in quite the peculiar bind when it comes to talking about this film and others that have a key element in common with it dear reader. That of course would be the element that whenever I find myself having to share my thoughts on a slice of cinematic pie that I always find appetizing it really truly is always infinitely more difficult for me to pull off than if it is a slice of cinematic pie that I either dislike or, worst case scenario, I completely and utterly loathe with an undying passion. I guess it’s because I feel that the words that I put down and which show up on my computer screen never, in my opinion mind you, seem to provide the material of the movie or even the film itself with the proper amount of respect to say nothing of the fact that I also feel like I really haven’t done as much as I possibly could in telling you everything, without spoiling anything, that makes a film like this so great. Thus I guess the only thing I can say is that if you have never ever had the chance to watch this truly iconic film in all its glory then if you are an avid lover of film you owe it to yourself to find this film and view it from gripping beginning all the way to riveting end at least the proverbial one time that all films, big and small, are truly owed. Indeed I can guarantee you that not only is this film most assuredly worth you giving it the time of day to sit down and watch, but it also should have had a much better chance of taking home the coveted Best Picture trophy than a film that, no offense, was all the rage because of its truly amazing special effects work and a soundtrack that was quite lovely, but when looking just under the surface of the water had both a story that honestly was way more predictable than this one ever would dare think of being and didn’t take you to a period of time that, although known for many things, was also known for constantly being….hush-hush shall we say? Not only in the secrets that were known and told, but also in the ones that weren’t and thus left for our imagination to truly run wild on. On a scale of 1-5 I give L.A. Confidential a solid 4.5 out of 5.