Retro Review: L.A. Confidential


As good as this film is, some (including myself) still think it to be a touch underrated. Perhaps it’s the fact that it didn’t get all the recognition that it probably could’ve received, or that (despite getting two big time Oscar nods) it was overshadowed by some Titanic films that year…

L.A. Confidential
Director: Curtis Hanson
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce
Running time: 138
Age restriction: R
Genre: crime, drama

 Plot Synopsis

Have you really not seen this film?

It’s a 1950′s noir type period piece about celebrity lookalikes, corrupt cops and the violent, drug induced underbelly of the glossy high society. Tracking the paths of three vastly different detectives with opposing motives and their quest for truth, justice and redemption – and seeing who’s willing to do what, to get what they want. its an L.A. crime drama wrapped up in a faux Hollywood bow.

The Target

Based on the L.A. crime series by James Ellroy, but don’t be lulled into thinking this is a conventional crime drama… the performances alone are worthy of a look, but generally, if you see yourself as a film fundi, then this title already occupies a comfortable place in your home entertainment collection – maybe even in a display unit – if you have one.

The Bottom Line

It’s one of those seemingly rare projects that came together without much confidence from the studios but became something of a cinematic gem. For a direct comparison, just look at the flop that was The Black Dahlia for a demonstration on how something like this could have gone wrong. It’s not just the top notch writing, but the performances are simply stellar, chief among them was the performances by two complete unknowns as part of the trio of leading stars (at the time of course – 1997 – this was a huge gamble that paid off beautifully for both the film and the actors); that being Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe. The only major ‘known’ lead at the time was the third detective, Jack Vincennes, played by Kevin Spacey.


If there is one fault, then it would most likely come in the form of the final act, or more specifically, the last 10 – 15 minutes, which I believe was rewritten at some point in the development to shorten the running time. I do believe the book’s ending was slightly different… but this detail could be interpreted differently from one viewer to the next, it certainly doesn’t hurt the story.

L.A. Confidential can be taken as a lesson in filmmaking for modern Hollywood, or more precisely, a lesson in storytelling, in portraying layered characters where even the good guys (once you decipher who they are) don’t like each other, a high profile cover-up with entangling agendas to muddy the waters around a murder mystery, all the while brushing shoulders with corrupt cops.

Personally though, these are my favourite performances by Crowe (beside that of The Insider) playing the ever blunt Bud White, and then Kim Basinger (a performance which was rightfully rewarded, and forms something of a fulcrum for her career).

A screening now is as good as it ever was; its poised for a younger generation to come along  (too young to fully grasp it when it was first released) and rediscover it for renewed appreciation. I implore you to get the Special Edition DVD as its packed with cool special features. I found it full of tasty titbits on what made this film such a success.

‘It’s Christmas Eve in the City of Angels and while decent citizens sleep the sleep of the righteous, hopheads prowl for marijuana, not knowing that a man is coming to stop them! Celebrity crimestopper Jack Vincennes, scourge of grasshoppers and dopefiends everywhere!’ Ya like it, Jackie boy?’ – Sid Hutchins (Danny Devito)

“… Off the record, on the QT, and very Hush, Hush!”

4 half


About Steven Benjamin:

A Capetonian – the only son, amongst four siblings, of a demure working mother and a missionary (once upon a time) for a father. Humble and God fearing, I’m a writer looking to add a different perspective whilst also telling stories on the side. I’ve lugubriously turned to writing after failing in a mental attempt to become a Formula 1 driver. I’m currently also working on my spicy debut novel, The Quiet Days!

Steven’s personal blog