Curtis Hanson’s film of James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential (Warner Home Video) is an outstanding piece of work; that rare Hollywood film that manages to be smart, entertaining and suspenseful all at the same time. Set in 1953, the film gives us a violent homicide detective (Russell Crowe), an idealistic, by-the-book rookie detective (Guy Pearce) and a narcotics detective (Kevin Spacey) who works as a technical advisor for a Dragnet-like TV show, Badge Of Honor, and gets tips from sleazy publisher Danny DeVito, whose magazine, Hush Hush, cover’s L.A.’s more lurid police files.
After a mysterious coffee shop massacre that leads them to question a Howard Hughes-like millionaire (played by David Strathairn) and Veronica Lake look-a-like call girl Kim Basinger (still impossibly sexy after all these years), the men discover a labyrinth of secrets that lead them to some surprising truths.
This is a stunningly written film ( the screenplay is by Hanson and Brain Helgeland) with great twists, a brutal, atmospheric look at the L.A. of heroin kingpin Mickey Cohen; the L.A. where the police department, worried about their image with the public, have no idea of the nightmare they are about to face. This is the best piece of film noir since Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, and like that film, it’s an homage to the city itself. The film takes glee in perversely digging into the city’s dark side, presenting us with beautifully drawn characters who never seem to realize that in L.A. everything is image and illusion.
Crowe, Pearce, Spacey, Basinger (who won as Oscar for this film) and James Cromwell (as the detective chief ) are all outstanding, and Hanson’s direction is beautifully restrained and expressive.
See this film. Hollywood filmmaking is rarely this smart anymore.