Monday, October 20, 2008

"L. A. Confidential" (1997) - Movie Review

“L. A. Confidential” is considered a classic when I watched it first in pieces during graduate school. I wondered what is special about this when it only involved a regular murder mystery with that unexpected villain. To see Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), Bud White (Russell Crowe) and Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) battle with their take on being a cop and losing themselves to its nature of swimming with criminals unseen in gutters and shambled buildings, it places the film a step aside from the thriller of the crime noir.

The film narrates as a noir but the visuals suggest otherwise. Set in the 50s, it has the Hollywood glamour for nostalgic antique poster but with the decadence unperceivable compared to the current trend of celebrity sugar factory. It has beautiful ladies demising their hopes for becoming the glamour lady into prostitution as the resort for survival. One such is Veronica Lake look-a-like Lynn Braken (Kim Bassinger). She is attracted to the tough guy Bud White coming in for investigation and both have a conversation which marginalize unrealism into realism in a way only a director knows and in a way only the actors know.

Bud is always on the edge of disintegrating into rage and enjoys submitting himself to that trait. He dislikes his young colleague Ed, a man with a boasting self righteousness who is more of a chess player in advancing his career. Yet he follows the book and becomes instrumental in testifying against Bud’s partner Stensland (Graham Deckel) for beating arrested Mexicans in the station. This immediate disdain develops into a burning fire for Bud telling that unfairness to Lynn but the fact is both differ extensively on dictating their jobs.

Yes there is plot which of course involves gruesome murders, drugs and betrayal of regular nature. That is not the point and in casting Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce fairly unknown Australian actors at that time for the roles tells a lot. The period adds a beauty to the fair of the juicy magazine editor Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), the glittering lights of the Hollywood streets and in the rooms the cops invade with TVs running the old b&w films. The film uses those props as a reminder of the glamour world and publicity rather than the authenticity of that period.

In all honesty I could not understand the stature this film gets of its classiness. I could not grasp its place in being a classic. I can see a very good film with characters made for the actors and the actors making it made for them in their performances. I can see the plot direction going with suspense in a hurried thriller manner but not obscuring its path in giving ambiguity to the viewer. It is a perfect film but the charisma of the critics and the information on it in wiki does take it to a pedestal guarded only for great classic films. My enjoyment of the film should not be doubted here at all but the question lingers or I am more concerned what I missed. I believe the timing of the film would have marked a different trend altogether. The thrillers of 70s and 80s were succumbing to the graphic gala and rapidity of the actions burying the characterization in main stream films in the 90s would have carved this film a mind blowing experience.

Crowe and Pearce undertake the cops who are looking their own way of justice. One abiding the law but also takes it as a choice of career and hence making sure of his advancements while the other taking it personally from his child hood experience unleashing those rage over the criminals. In between these two is Spacey’s Jack, a man enjoying the limelight of Hollywood and the publicity of it. For him money is the key but he has a limited soul to sell and when it crosses he admonishes his actions. He is the funny cop who knows his way out in this disintegrating city of crime and glamour.

“L. A. Confidential” would now be looked upon a cliché or a lesson in predictability. Yet it survives through the characters. It is contemporary in the cops it displays but goes back to its period of 50s in the absence of technical hands on. The deception, corruption and scandal have not changed but have exponentially grown seeing the news reports and papers. The sleazy magazine has promoted to the moving mirage of faked realism in television and super market side stand magazines. You know it is cheap but it is almost impossible to not read the cover.

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