VOD film review: L.A. Confidential
Ivan Radford | On 09, Nov 2019Reading time: 3 mins
Director: Curtis Hanson
Cast: Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, Kim Basinger
Watch LA Confidential online in the UK: Amazon Prime
“Come to Los Angeles! The sun shines bright, the beaches are wide and inviting, and the orange groves stretch as far as the eye can see.” That’s our introduction to LA Confidential, as gossip mag writer Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) introduces us to the picture-perfect City of Angels, before immediately warning us that there’s trouble in paradise.
That becomes immediately clear when we’re dropped into the aftermath of a mass shooting at a local diner, a shockingly violent act that brings together a web of characters, each one of them corrupt in their own sordid way – a maze of moral compromises splashed with red blood.
The idea of making a film noir in vibrant film colour was sacrilege when Chinatown was made in 1974. Over 20 years later and LA Confidential saw director Curtis Hanson pull off that magic trick with renewed grit, fusing the violence of the 90s with the traditions of the genre.
Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe deliver career-best performances as a pair of cops who couldn’t be more different on the surface.
Crowe is Bud Wilson, a one-man wrecking ball who has a thing for protecting women in trouble. So when he crosses paths with the enigmatic Lynn Bracken (Basinger), he’s warming up his fists before you can say “femme fatale”.
Pearce is Ed Exley, the bespectacled sun of a legendary cop who shoots straight in a force of bent officers.
But as they team up to solve the mystery surrounding Lynne – which involves the death of a crime boss, a seedy adult entertainment racket and 25 pounds of heroin – the similarities between them slowly start to stack up. Both have a rudimentary sense of justice, but both have their own vices, from Wilson’s hotheaded streak to Exley’s willingless to do anything to further his own career.
Between them, showbiz cop Jack Vincennes (who acts as an advisor for a TV series) makes it clear that policing in Hollywood is nothing but superficial acting, but the more a conspiracy emerges, the more he’s challenged to do the right thing.
Hanson and Brian Helgeland’s script gives every character their fair share of standout moments, and lace every scene with gloriously hard-boiled dialogue. “I doubt you’ve ever drawn a stupid breath in your life. Don’t start now,” says Cromwell’s wiry, wily police chief. “Don’t start trying to do the right thing, you haven’t had the practice,” Basinger’s Bracken shoots at the chisel-jawed Exley.
But the screenplay goes one step further than just looking and sounding the part: based on James Ellroy’s 1990 novel of the same name, it actually improves the original text, stripping out half of the book’s subplots to create a streamlined, precisely complex snapshot of a city of corrupt angels.
The film brings a naturalistic, modern sensibility to the timeless themes of noir, squeezing every frame with impeccable attention to period detail. The result effortlessly evokes America in the 1950s, dripping in saturated hues and stylish portent. In the foreground, three men try to find their place in a world where they’re destined to fall; in the background, the golden age of Hollywood crumbles and fades with the crispness of a black-and-white movie.
L.A. Confidential is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.