LA Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997)

What’s it about? Listen up, hepcats, It's the 1950s in the City of Angels. Three LAPD officers are forced to confront their inner demons as they investigate a multiple homicide. Bud White (Russell Crowe) is a thuggish cop with a thing for protecting abused women. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is an ambitious, calculating college graduate, whilst Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a slick operator more concerned about schmoozing with Hollywood stars than police work. The story sees their paths cross in ways that are off the record, on the Q.T. and very hush-hush.

Is it any good? One of the best American films of the 90s, with superlative turns from Spacey, Pearce and Crowe as the flawed heroes of the story. This was back when the latter two were relative unknowns, but their multi-layered performances here helped catapult them both into the A-list. Spacey, meanwhile, was hot off his double-whammy in Seven and The Usual Suspects, and doesn't so much act as glide effortlessly through the film. These three central performances sit at the heart of a beautifully assembled film, with every scene and character integral to the overall picture. It's also a film that isn't afraid to ask the audience to put in a bit of effort to see how the bits fit together to reveal an intriguing, excting tale of murder, corruption, sex, violence and drugs, but one that also manages to efficiently map out a backdop of the political, economic and criminal forces that shaped LA into the city it is today. It is a measure of the film's excellence that it drew favourable and deserved comparisons with the classic Chinatown, with an equally impressive attention to the period detail, the language and the feel of the setting, as well as believable, fleshed-out characters and events that develop logically and satisfyingly. If I were nit-picking, I might say that I think Kim Basinger is too old for her femme fatale role, and venture that the film doesn't quite nail the character of Dudley Smith, but those views would only be offered up under duress, for example if i were being interrogated by being dangled out a window, or blackmailed by photos from my seedy past.

However, the real achievement of the film can only really be appreciated after reading James Ellroy's source novel, to see how brilliantly Hanson and Brian Helgeland adapted it. Over 2 years and several drafts, they condensed the novel's time-line, rearranged events and dialogue, trimmed down several plot-lines to just three, and changing the ending to make it all work on screen. And the remarkable thing is that they did all this without dumbing down the scope or themes of the novel, and without incurring the wrath of Ellroy himself, who grudgingly admitted the film exceeded all his expectations. It’s a remarkable demonstration of the art of screen-writing and won them a highly deserved Oscar. Dig it, hepcats.

Anything else I should know? I re-watched this because I'm currently working my way through Ellroy's superb LA Quartet again, which are essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in crime fiction. LA Confidential is the third in the series, which also includes The Black Dahlia (based on the infamous real-life murder of Beth Short), The Big Nowhere (my favourite) and White Jazz. Following the success of LA Confidential the film, there was a scramble to adapt the other novels, only for their complexity to stump all efforts to batter them into shape for the big screen. Eventually, in 2006, an insipid version of The Black Dahlia limped onto screens and was roundly beaten by critics and public alike. At present, the other two seem mired in development hell, so the best we can hope for is that HBO bring their A-game to the planned TV adaptation of Ellroy's American Tabloid, another brilliant read which 'factionalizes' the events leading up to JFK's assassination. Come on, HBO, make this soon and don't make a balls of it. Or else I'll stop supplying you with heroin and hookers.

What does the Fonz think? That's grand, boyo.

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