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L. A. CONFIDENTIAL

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito
Director: Curtis Hanson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 138 Minutes
Release Date: September 23, 2008

“The Nite Owl case made you. Do you want to tear all that down?”

“With a wrecking ball. You want to help me swing it?”

Film ****

I recently saw Roman Polanski’s Chinatown for the first time, and I couldn’t get over the fact that it took me so long to see one of the true masterpieces of film noir. I would go so far to say that it represents the film noir genre as the absolute best, if it wasn’t for the existence of another similar piece. That film is Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential.

It might be unfair of me to say that because I saw Hanson’s film numerous times before I saw Chinatown, but I can honestly state that had I seen the films in reverse order my opinion wouldn’t change a bit. Seeing it for the first time was a phenomenal experience, and I find the film all the more enthralling with every repeat viewing, which there have been many. And though no other film would top Boogie Nights as my favorite film of 1997, L.A. Confidential came in at a very close second.

It also represents one of the finest screen adaptations of any novel to date. Hanson, along with screenwriter Brian Helgeland, stripped James Ellroy’s novel down to the basic credentials that would make for a most brilliant interpretation through film. The final result was a very deserving oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

I can’t think of another single film that does a remarkable job of transporting the viewer to its setting right from the opening title sequence. The setting in this case is 1953, Los Angeles. Since the source material comes from a writer like James Ellroy, one can certainly expect a more grim and violent tale than we’re used to seeing with any story set in that time period.

We are first introduced to three individual cops with distinct backgrounds. The first is Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe), who is the type to easily beat a confession out of a suspect. His violent behavior is of value to police chief Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), who uses White as muscle to get physical on suspects.

The second is Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), who walks a thin line between cop and celebrity. Aside from being the technical advisor on the hit TV show “Badge of Honor”, Vincennes receives tips on where to bust high profile celebrities through sleaze magazine editor Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito). And he’s never shy about his latest bust hitting the front page.

Finally, there’s Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), a cop who cannot be bought. Exley believes no cop is above the law, and is not much liked within the department after instantly ratting out cops following a drunk induced riot in the police precinct. He’s also a political animal, not hesitating to use fingering cops in order as a means of getting a quick promotion to detective lieutenant.

What brings the three cops together is a brutal massacre at a coffee shop called The Nite Owl. Because one of the murdered victims is a cop, as well as White’s former partner, the department makes this case a primary matter. Upon the arrest of three suspects, with credible evidence in tow, The Nite Owl case appears to be closed.

But the mystery only increases, as the case resolution doesn’t seem to sit right with White, Exley and Vincennes. Also brought into the mix is Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger, in her oscar winning role), a call girl who soon engages in an affair with White. She works in an operation, headed by millionaire pornographer Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn), where girls are given plastic surgery in order to look like movie stars. Lynn closely resembles Veronica Lake.

I won’t delve into the rest of the plot, because quite frankly it’s way too complex to put into words. Plus, I’d be giving way too much away. All I can say is that the screenplay by Hanson and Helgeland is genius in the way it manages to pull all the strands together in the end, as well as the execution of the many twists and turns along the way.

And the performances are as fantastic as it gets. Although he hadn’t officially soared to leading man status at the time of its release, I find this to be one of Kevin Spacey’s greatest performances. An actor who shines at playing cocky characters, Spacey is right at home playing Jack Vincennes. He’s the one character who I enjoyed throughout the film, which is saying something since many of the main characters don’t start out too likable.

The movie also marked the discovery point for Australian actors Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce. And two unknown actors couldn’t ask for better roles to breakthrough with. Crowe blends a unique mix of menace and heroism, and Pearce is perfect as an ambitious type who also means to do the right thing.

Lastly, we have fantastic supporting turns from Danny DeVito and the lovely Kim Basinger. DeVito fits the role of sleaze reporter Sid Hudgens perfectly, and puts a great deal of energy into the role. And Ms. Basinger delivers her best acting ever, and I was most happy when she was rewarded with the oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

In the realm of detective film noir, L.A. Confidential deserves to be ranked among the absolute best in the genre. It’s one of those rare films that seem to get just greater and greater with each viewing. It’s both magnificently entertaining and a superb work of art.

Video ****

It’s amazing to note that Warner has taken one of their great all around early releases and made it even more fantastic. The remastered video quality is truly a surprise. I didn’t think anything could surpass the quality of the original disc, but this new edition looks even more spectacular. The anamorphic picture is truly remarkable, with grand sharpness and a detailed image, which makes the 1950s setting look even more authentic!

Audio ****

The first disc of this movie was one of the first DVDs I bought, and I remembered being absolutely blown away by the stunning sound quality. My reaction was very much the same for this new release, which has the same explosive 5.1 mix in tow. Everything sounds fantastic, from the music to the various background sound provided by set pieces, and especially the action! The climatic motel shootout remains one of the absolute best scenes to show off any surround sound system with.

Features ****

Man, did Warner really pull out all the stops on this Two Disc Special Edition release or what? We get a fantastic load of extras here. Disc One includes an amazing commentary track with critic/historian Andrew Sarris, novelist James Ellroy, cast members Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito, co-writer Brian Helgeland, production designer Jeannine Oppewall, costume designer Ruth Myers and cinematographer Dante Spinotti. Also included are Trailers, TV Spots and an alternate music track, which is in Dolby 5.1.

One Disc Two, we get some phenomenal documentary material. Included is “Whatever You Desire: Making L.A. Confidential”, “Sunlight and Shadow: The Visual Style of L.A. Confidential”, “A True Ensemble: The Cast of L.A. Confidential”, “L.A. Confidential: From Book to Screen”, “Off the Record: Vintage Cast/Creator Interviews”, “L.A. Confidential TV Series Pilot”, “Director Curtis Hanson's Photo Pitch” and “The L.A. of L.A. Confidential Interactive Map Tour”.

Lastly, there’s a third disc which is actually a CD including various music tracks from the soundtrack.

Summary:

As far as film noir goes, it doesn’t get any better than L.A. Confidential. Warner has done a most fantastic upgrade for this release. It makes a terrific opportunity to re-discover this classic, which looks and sounds better than ever!

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