1997 Movie Review: LA CONFIDENTIAL, 1997


Movie Reviews

Directed by Curtis Hanson
Starring: Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, Kim Basinger
Review by Brent Randall


The corruption existing within Los Angeles police force of the 1950s is exposed in this crime thriller.

WON 2 OSCARS – Best Supporting Actress (Basinger), Best Adapted Screenplay


From the opening scene to the final credits, L.A. Confidential keeps you on the edge of your seat as it weaves through the murky waters of the Los Angeles police force. Set in the 1950s, the movie opens with discussing the wonders of Hollywood by showing a series of shots of the beach, the grand strand, and Hollywood, and how life in L.A. is better than anywhere on the planet, much less America, and the Los Angeles Police Department is the pride and joy of the City of Angels. After about five minutes of praising the city with a marvelous voice over from Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), Hudgens shifts gears and begins shedding light on the mobster, Mickey Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle), and how Cohen is pushing heroine through the city and causing chaos in a clean and pristine town.

At first, it seems that the police force is dead set on snuffing out the crime with the arrest of Mickey Cohen in the opening sequence with their brilliant detectives, Bud White (Russell Crowe), Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), and Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). However, it is merely an illusion, and the corruption within the famous police department is quickly exposed. As the viewer, you get the sense early, all is not right within when a brawl breaks out between the inmates and the policeman on Christmas Eve. Personally, I thought it was brilliant to stage the fight on Christmas Eve, a time known for peace and joy, and the fight is one of the most vicious, realistic fights I have seen in recent films. Shortly after the fight, the event that sends everything in motion is a horrific set of murders that occurred at the infamous “Night Owl” restaurant. A blood bath that took place over a failed robbery attempt in Captain Smith’s account. Captain Smith, who is always trying to get justice, in his own words, “swiftly and merciless”, pins the murders on three young black men who had previous records . Smith feels no one would raise too many questions regarding these suspects, and they could shut the case for good.

However, Bud White and Ed Exley, while not choosing to work together for most of the film, know something stinks about The Night Owl investigation, and desire to find some air freshener to eliminate the “smell.” They employ the help of Detective Jack Vincennes, which is brilliantly performed by Kevin Spacey, and Lynn Bracken, a high class hooker, played by Kim Basinger in her best performance ever, in my opinion. We quickly learn that Bud White believes in justice, cares for women, has a major temper, and is loyal to the department. Exley, on the other hand, is a kiss up, but also believes in justice. Throughout the movie, it is easy to see why these two do not get along, but one quickly learns they have much more in common than originally thought, and they both prove to be honest and men of integrity. Russell Crowe (playing Bud White) and Guy Pearce (playing Ed Exley) both give brilliant performances, and makes one realize the line between right and wrong is very, very, complicated and sometimes justice is found on both sides of this proverbial line.

Bud White is probably, in my opinion, Crowe’s best roll to date. Not to take away anything from the movie Gladiator, but in L.A. Confidential, his character is not always right, he is not always wrong, but his quest for justice and righteousness gives the viewer a real sense of hope. Bud White is a character, as a human being, I can relate to. He is real, honest, has major flaws, but genuinely seeks the good in all and more importantly, the good within himself.

In fact, Bud White and the other character is what makes this film great. The story line is solid, but as the film progresses, you find yourself loving some, hating others, and not sure how to take the rest. Some represent the good in the world, Bud White. Others represent the evil in the world, Captain Dudley Smith. Some represent the people who look out for themselves as in Jack Vincennes, and then there is Lynn Bracken. In my opinion, she represents the hope we all have as humans for a brighter future, and that hope along with her brilliant acting might be why she took home the best supporting actress Oscar.

From scene to scene, and character to character, this film keeps probing deeper and deeper into corruption and darkness in search of hope, justice, and peace. It grips your the viewer’s emotions and takes you on a roller coaster ride. The acting is brilliant, and the stars (Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Danny DeVito, Kim Basinger -just to name a few) are even brighter. It is a film that makes you want to search within yourself, question your own morality, and makes people realize that some of the worst enemies are the ones who appear to be friends, and vice versa. While it did not win best picture, (it was nominated and in my opinion, should have won!) it definitely qualifies as one of the best crime thrillers of all time.