Thursday, April 28, 2011

Flick of The Day: L.A Confidential

The work of American novelist James Ellroy is notoriously hard to adapt for the screen, written as it is in short staccato sentences with dense plotting involving numerous strands and characters. This is its strength as fiction but obviously harder to carry onto the big screen. If this in done badly, you get a flop like Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia, if done well, you get today's flick of the day, L.A Confidential one of the best films of the 1990's and a multiple Oscar winner.
Apart from a great script from director Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland which successfully reduces the scope of Ellroy's novel while still retaining the core story, the other main strength of this movie is a cast to die for. Russell Crowe is a violent yet good hearted Detective Bud White, James Cromwell is his Machiavellian commanding officer, Captain Dudley Smith. Guy Pearce is Edmund Exeley an up and coming strait laced star of the LAPD. Kevin Spacey, is Hollywood Jack Vincennes, an amoral cop to the stars. Kim Basinger is Lynn Bracken, a high class call girl whose career is managed by millionaire Pierce Morehouse Patchett, a brilliant turn from David Strathairn and finally Danny DeVito as the sleazy magazine editor Sid Hudgens.
Set in 1950s Los Angeles, the film opens on Christmas Eve when a group of drunken detectives attack some newly apprehended suspects in an event the press dub, "Bloody Christmas". Thereafter in an attempt to clean up the force, the top brass seek to prosecute the officers involved. Keen to move up, Exeley agrees to testify against his own colleagues, making him a hated figure while Bud White and Jack Vincennes refuse. The film then follows the rise and fall of these three detectives and their boss, Captain Smith. They become embroiled in the investigation of a shocking massacre at a late night coffee shop that may or may not involve organised crime. However all is not as it seems, and  an intricate plot leads to a great twisting conclusion involving drugs, prostitution and police corruption that goes to the very top. 
With a plot dense enough to match the great of the genre like Chinatown or The Big Sleep, this is a great detective yarn. Hanson has managed to perfectly capture the glamour and sleazy underbelly of post-war Los Angeles. Down to a tee, everything feels perfectly of the period in terms of fashion, decor and location. It sucks you into the period and tells a great story.The film received 9 Oscar nominations but lost in almost all categories due to the unstoppable juggernaut that was Titanic. It is shocking now to think that a film as poorly written and acted as Titanic outshone this picture but such are the unknowing ways of the Academy. One of the few awards it did win was for its screenplay, adapted as I've said by Hanson and Helgeland which is well deserved as the film is endlessly quotable.

Bud White: Merry Christmas. 
Lynn Bracken: Merry Christmas to you, officer. 
Bud White: That obvious, huh? 
Lynn Bracken: It's practically stamped on your forehead

This really is a must see film, combining a great cast with a fine script to produce a really old-fashioned actor driven movie, the kind that studios either don't want to make or are unable of making. They seem more and more interested in producing thrash in a 3D glaze with each passing day. I am no luddite and have never been against the use of advancing technology in cinema but it should not be at at the expense of basic storytelling. It is telling that this film lost out to effects driven schlock like Titanic, telling and disappointing. A great film.

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