L.A. Confidential, 1997.
Directed by Curtis Hanson.
Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, and Danny DeVito.
L.A. Confidential has been reissued on DVD and Blu-ray for its 20th anniversary. Unfortunately, nothing new was created for this release, so owners of the 2008 Blu-ray can skip this one, although those who have the earlier two-disc DVD Special Edition may want to upgrade to a high-def copy of the movie. A code for a digital copy is included too.
L.A. Confidential is one of those movies that bears repeat viewings. While its story of three LA police officers gradually uncovering deep-rooted corruption may seem simple on its surface, the plot adds the complexities of Hollywood’s seedy underside to the proceedings. Set in any other city, it might be a more straightforward narrative, but LA’s mystique gives the story another layer for viewers to navigate.
Based on James Ellroy’s novel, L.A. Confidential uses the perfect triad of officers to propel the story: Bud White (Russell Crowe) is a mean son-of-a-bitch who’s not afraid to cross a line or two, but he’s also willing to do it with guys who beat women; Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a smarmy detective who knows how to smooth-talk his way into anything, including a moonlight gig as a consultant for a hit police procedural TV show; and Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce), a straight-arrow officer whose insistence on following procedures to the letter irritates pretty much everyone around him.
They’re the perfect group of character archetypes because each has strengths and weaknesses that play well off the other two. As they investigate a seemingly open-and-shut multiple-homicide case at a coffee shop, the three begin uncovering strains of corruption within their department, but each does so in his own way. White is loyal to his superiors but lets his base instincts lead him further down the rabbit hole. Vincennes is reluctant to rock the boat, given his desire to keep his side job intact, but gets pulled in anyway. And Exley methodically forges ahead, trying to be careful with his investigation but haunted by the mystery of the man who killed his father, who was also an officer.
The three also connect with a series of supporting players who each have their own back stories and motivations. Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) may or may not be implicated in his department’s corruption. Tabloid reporter Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) supplies Vincennes with an extra income stream to ensure he’s on hand to photograph celebrity arrests for his employer. Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn) is a pimp who supplies prostitutes who are surgically altered to resemble famous actresses, including Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), a Veronica Lake lookalike who has complicated relationships with Exley and White. And District Attorney Ellis Loew (Ron Rifkin) has his own secrets he’d like to keep Hush-Hush, as Hudgens’ tabloid is known.
The wide array of supporting characters helps create a complex web of main and supporting storylines that eventually converge and propel the plot toward its climax. The conclusion has a bit of a “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown” feel to it – like any great story, L.A. Confidential simply presents its complicated characters to the audience and lets them try to make sense of what happened while the closing credits roll.
If you’ve never seen L.A. Confidential, this 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is a worthwhile pick-up, although there are no new bonus features. Everything from the previous two-disc Special Edition DVD and 2008 Blu-ray release are found here. You’ll also find a code for a digital copy, which is handy for those of us who want to be able to watch movies on devices other than our TVs. (Sorry, David Lynch.)
- Audio commentary: Group commentaries can be unwieldy, but the home video producers made a wise decision here and edited in comments from a large number of people to maximize the amount of information presented while minimizing the goofing around. Director Curtis Hanson is a notable omission from the proceedings (he pops up throughout the rest of the bonus features, though), but there’s a wide range of people found here, including: Crowe, Pearce, Basinger, Spacey, Cromwell, Strathaim, DeVito, Ellroy, co-screenwriter Brian Helgeland, editor Peter Honess, director of photography Dante Spinotti, production designer Jeannine Oppewall, costume designer Ruth Myers, producer Michael Nathanson, and film critic Andrew Sarris.
- Whatever You Desire: Making L.A. Confidential (30 minutes): Hanson, cast members, and others talk about the making of the film from the project’s earliest days. The studio wasn’t very keen on the movie, something that seems to be a recurring theme with many well-regarded films. Props to Hanson for jumping the hurdles Warner Bros. threw in his way and persevering. He demonstrates how important it is in Hollywood to not just be a smart creative type: one must also be able to navigate an environment full of out-size egos.
- Sunlight and Shadow: The Visual Style of L.A. Confidential (21 minutes): Spinotti discusses his approach to the film’s look and feel.
- A True Ensemble: The Cast of L.A. Confidential (25 minutes): Hanson talks about his desire to cast three actors on their way up in Hollywood in the primary roles. The actors and others chime in too.
- A. Confidential: From Book to Screen (21 minutes): I’ve always been interested in the nuts and bolts of storytelling and how one adapts a tale from one medium to another. While it’s common for fans to gripe that the book was better, Hanson and Helgeland demonstrate here why they made the decisions they made when bringing Ellroy’s novel to the silver screen. Had they created a script that was page-for-page faithful to the book, they probably would have ended up with a movie that was twice as long.
- Off the Record (19 minutes): This is a window-boxed making-of featurette from the original DVD release. It doesn’t shed a lot of new light on topics already covered in the other bonus features, but there’s some good test footage of Pearce and Crow that’s of interest.
- Photo Pitch (8 minutes): This is another window-boxed piece from the original DVD, but it’s a great run-through in which Hanson demonstrates how he pitched the movie with period LA photos. It’s another good glimpse into how one must use their skills of persuasion to sell others on their vision in order to get a movie made in Hollywood.
- A. Confidential: 2000 TV pilot (47 minutes): Unsurprisingly, the film’s success, and the larger world that it created, inspired the desire for a TV series. However, Keifer Sutherland takes on the Vincennes role here, which is the first sign that this project was misguided, since he doesn’t have the capacity to ooze oily smarminess the way Spacey can. Plenty of TV pilots are shot that lead nowhere, and this is one of them – too bad there’s no intro that adds some context to this episode, but I suppose no one involved with it wanted to do that. In Sept. 2017, word came out that another TV series is in development at CBS; we’ll see if it goes anywhere.
- The LA of L.A. Confidential (10 minutes): This is a series of 15 short clips about the well-known locations seen in the film. Too bad there’s not a “play all” option.
- Music-only track: If you’re a fan of film scores, you’ll appreciate the chance to hear Jerry Goldsmith’s work in an isolated track.
- Trailers and TV spots: The theatrical trailer and five TV commercials
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★