“I know Titanic will probably win, but this really is the best movie of the year.”
Those words were said by me to my parents right after we watched the modern classic cop drama L.A. Confidential soon after it hit theaters in 1997. Based on the novel by James Ellroy, L.A. Confidential was directed by Curtis Hanson, who was also co-producer and co-wrote the screenplay. This movie has a stellar ensemble cast: Kevin Spacey (more on him in an upcoming aside), Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and David Strathairn.
Those last three actors were completely new to me. I was quite surprised to learn Crowe and Pearce weren’t Americans. The latter is an Australian born in England, while the former was born in New Zealand and lives in Australia. In the film, there isn’t a hint of an accent other than American in their performances.
Throughout the movie, everyone is in fine form. The acting is so good and the characters are so well realized, even the secondary characters are spot on.
And as the characters go, no one is pure in this story.
Cromwell is terrific as the corrupt Capt. Dudley Smith, but just how far will his corruption go? DeVito nails his role as the sleazy celebrity gossip peddler Sid Hudgens, who bribes Spacey’s character (Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes) to arrange celebrity busts for the headlines and increasing sales of Hush Hush magazine. Vincennes also gained fame through those arranged busts and that helped him land the role of technical advisor, a role he relishes, on a very Dragnet-like TV cop show.
Crowe as Officer Bud White is a cop who provides muscle in helping Capt. Smith rid Los Angeles of organized criminals, but not organized crime. You see, Dudley wants to replace the former crime boss who had been busted on a tax evasion rap. That way he can be the fine upstanding Captain of the world’s finest police force, while secretly controlling and profiting from the organized crime he’s supposed to oppose.
Basinger won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as Lynn Bracken, a high priced sex worker made to look like movie star Veronica Lake. She’s part of an expensive stable of call girls made to look like Hollywood stars run by local millionaire Pierce Patchett (Strathairn). He is said to treat his “employees” well as he caters to a more exclusive clientele. His slogan is “Whatever You Desire.”
And then there’s Sgt. Edmund Exley, son of a legendary cop who was killed on duty. That murder was never solved. Exley, a highly intelligent, scheming, and ambitious, if naive, cop, is determined to live up to and perhaps surpass his father’s legacy.
On Christmas Eve, chaos erupts in the jail cell area of police headquarters. Earlier in the evening, two cops got in a minor skirmish with a group of Hispanic men, who had initially gotten away. But they’re caught and brought in and the over-served police officers celebrating the holiday mete out some payback punishment of their own.
The press was there and caught the violence on camera and it was big news the next day. Embarrassing news for the LAPD and they needed to save face. That’s when Exley’s smarts and ambition took him from a Sergeant to a Detective Lieutenant. It also made him an enemy of every other cop in the precinct, including Officer White.
Then came the Nite Owl.
But, first, a short aside.
Kevin Spacey is in this movie and he’s not very highly thought of at the moment. He’s been accused of sexual misconduct with one case involving a minor. He’s also on trial for sexually assaulting an 18 year-old man.
Our legal system has the presumption of innocence as it’s baseline, but these accusations can’t help but taint the work Spacey has done over his career, much of it outstanding performances, such as his role as Jack Vincennes.
In most cases involving entertainers being flawed human beings or maybe having social and political views I don’t agree with, I try to consider the art and not the artist. It’s not always easy. It’s easy for me to not watch the Spacey movies that I thought were crap (Hurlyburly? Have you seen it? It’s horrible!), but Se7en? The Ref? The Usual Suspects? Baby Driver? Should I give up watching those?
Your answer might be yes. And that’s fair. You might think less of me for it, but I’m going to keep watching the art, while grimacing at the artist when it comes to Kevin Spacey. What you do is your decision.
Aside over, now back to the blog.
Right. Then came the Nite Owl.
The Nite Owl was an all night diner at which the customers and staff were murdered one night during a robbery. Exley was the first detective on the scene, but Capt. Smith took over the case the moment he arrived. It was soon discovered one of the victims was a former cop. He was Bud White’s partner before he was drummed out of the force for taking part in the Christmas Eve brawl.
That’s where I’m going to leave it. To go into any more details of the plot would risk spoiling a story that twists and turns its way through the seedy side of sunny California in the 1950s. There are betrayals, team-ups, double-crosses, some romance, terrific action, and one excellent out-of-nowhere gasp moment! I mean my mother, when she saw that moment, literally gasped.
The production, including using popular music of the time, is spotless as it captures the look and feel of what many think was a simpler time, a more innocent time, a greater time in American history. Except there never was a time of innocence. There was always a dark side to society. And there were always men and women willing to take advantage of it.
If you haven’t seen it. Watch it! If you have, watch it again!
Correction 2/1/19: I had the name of that crappy Kevin Spacey movie wrong. I said it was Hodge Podge, but the name is Hurlyburly. I made the correction.
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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.