An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: LA Confidential (1997)

Good cop - bad cop, LA Confidential starring: James Cromwell. Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe and Kevin Sp

Good cop - bad cop, LA Confidential starring: James Cromwell. Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey. Photo: Warner Bros - Credit: Archant

Films with re-watch value, movies with a unique quality, will become the classics of the future. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.

LA Confidential starring Kim Basinger and Guy Pearce. Photo: Warner Bros

LA Confidential starring Kim Basinger and Guy Pearce. Photo: Warner Bros - Credit: Archant

LA Confidential; dir: Curtis Hanson; starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn. Cert:15 (1997)

It had to happen sooner or later, that the present would catch up with Hollywood’s past. Our series celebrating cinema’s recent classics would crash headlong into the Times Up/Me Too controversy and would be forced to confront the issue of whether the sight of disgraced film stars in leading roles will force us to re-evaluate movies that otherwise would be considered gems of their age.

Re-watching LA Confidential for the purposes of this feature I am happy to report that this cinematic tone poem to corruption and back street sleaze is more than capable of keeping Kevin Spacey in his place.

LA Confidential Guy Pearce helps to bust a high-class prostitution racket. Photo: Warner Bros

LA Confidential Guy Pearce helps to bust a high-class prostitution racket. Photo: Warner Bros - Credit: Archant

It helps that Spacey plays a contemptible individual in this and that we are not required to like his character, that of the vain celebrity cop, Jack Vincennes, who serves as a technical advisor for Badge of Honor, a popular TV cop show, while at the same time setting up celebrity drug and sex party busts for Hush Hush, a sleazy movie gossip magazine, run by the equally sleazy Sid Hudgens, played with genuine gusto by Danny de Vito.

It also helps that this isn’t a one star movie. It’s very much an ensemble piece. LA in the 1950s is the star.

It’s a movie that helps repudiate that old saying: “They don’t make ‘em like that any more,” because LA Confidential is a glorious testament to the fact that if the spirit is willing and the script is right then Hollywood can peel back the years and, as in this case, make a genuinely dark and thrilling film noir again.

LA Confidential starring corrupt cop Kevin Spacey. Photo: Warner Bros

LA Confidential starring corrupt cop Kevin Spacey. Photo: Warner Bros - Credit: Archant

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It’s a probing examination of not only the conventions of the film genre but a genuine look at the period in US history when the movie studios were genuinely more powerful than the local police or the district attorney. A word in the right ear, money greasing the right palm, could get your leading man off a death by drunk driving charge or a popular starlet spirited away from the bedroom of married co-star.

Conversely, if you made enemies your homosexual tendencies could be exposed by the glare of a dozen flashbulbs and in an instant your career would be over.

LA Confidential documents a dog-eat-dog world on the streets and back alleys of LA, where the cops, aren’t always concerned about who’s innocent and who’s guilty, providing they have got someone in custody – or dead on the pavement.

The police station lies at the heart of this complex world of dubious morals and the detailed way that Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and James Cromwell colour their performances allow us to become completely immersed in their world of suspect law enforcement.

The film starts off being narrated by de Vito’s cynical and opportunistic view of the law and gradually how see how the individual police officers have their own take on policing. There’s very little here which is black and white.

James Cromwell delivers one of the stand-out performances as the fatherly police captain, while Russell Crowe is tough hot-head and Guy Pearce is the academic career cop who wants to honour the memory of his father, slain in the line of duty.

The film’s poster girl, Kim Basinger, captures our attention as the Veronica Lake look-alike and helps anchor the movie in this evocative era.

Director Curtis Hanson films everything and everyone with loving attention. The whole film looks gorgeous but he never loses sight of the fact that he is telling story rather than creating a moving period painting. But, the complexity of the writing and the depth in the performances, allied with the look of the film, mean that, despite knowing there is an entire shoal of red herrings, you can come back and lose yourself in this gloriously decadent movie time and again.

There’s big time mobsters, drug busts, high-class movie-star look-alike prostitute rings, LA Confidential has got it all.

There is something satisfying about the way that the central story is revealed almost by accident. Investigations into a seemingly random coffee shop murder start to reveal something much larger and unconnected. The more the police start pulling at those loose ends, the more of what becomes the central story is revealed.

The journey is just as fulfilling as reaching the destination but it has to be said that it is wonderful to have all the loose ends tied up in a truly satisfying fashion.

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