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L.A. Confidential Movie Review

Director: Curtis Hanson

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, Ron Rifkin, Graham Beckel, Amber Smith, John Mahon, Paul Guilfoyle, Matt McCoy, Paolo Seganti, Simon Baker Denny, Tomas Arana, Michael McCleery, Shawnee Free Jones, Darrell Sandeen, Marisol Padilla Sánchez, Gwenda Deacon, Jim Metzler, Brenda Bakke

Oscar Wins: Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger), Best Adapted Screenplay

Other Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Musical Score, Best Sound, Best Picture

How could a movie from 1997 about the film era of the 1950s feel so relevant in 2020?

The Golden Age of Hollywood – Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Judy Garland and Rock Hudson were just some of the stars to light up the silver screen. Movies were a booming business, but in America’s capital of sophistication, glitter and glamour, a seedy underbelly began to take shape, framed by secret alliances, vicious paparazzi and, the coup de grace, a crooked police force.

It’s 1953. The City of Angels is in the grip of an unprecedented wave of violence. The head of the LAPD, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), knows of the corruption going on within his department but turns a blind eye to it. After all, there’s always a group of rag-tag (Black) youths he can pin the crime on…

When the Night Owl Massacre claims the lives of six people, including an ex-cop, the LAPD begins its routine investigation, only to discover this is no ordinary homicide.

The three cops on the job seem to represent three distinct stereotypical groups within law enforcement – one obsessed with violence, one corrupt to the core and one too naïve for his own good.

Bud White (Russell Crowe) is the “muscle”, believing that violence is the key to solving almost every problem. His temper is almost always at war with his basic sense of decency and justice.

Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is the “by-the-book” cop, hoping to rise through the ranks with honesty and integrity. He’s quick to blow the whistle on his fellow officers and, even though he lacks experience, he soon picks up on the inner politics of the department.

Finally, there’s Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), who makes a few extra bucks working as a technical advisor on the hit police drama, “Badge of Honor”. He also sells celebrity tips to Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito), publisher of the L.A. trash tabloid, Hush-Hush. He’s become so casually corrupt and addicted to this secret life that he’s quite literally forgotten why he became a policeman in the first place.

These convoluted plot lines (plus a few more) all intersect at the Night Owl Massacre, where these three cops, who share nothing in common, must work together to solve this crime.

Violence and betrayal lead these men into a web of deceit as the truth about the massacre begins to come to light. A sexy noir crime drama that also stars Kim Basinger as prostitute Lynn Bracken and David Strathairn as her pimp Pierce Patchett, this is one wild and crazy ride though the dirty streets of 1950s SoCal.

Much like the other films that came out this year, L.A. Confidential didn’t stand a chance against the powerhouse that was Titanic. Though nominated for nine Academy Awards, it only won two: Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger) and Best Adapted Screenplay.

In the family of Hollywood noir films, L.A. Confidential is certainly up there with the likes of Chinatown and Double Indemnity. The characters are smart and the plot is nothing if not a labyrinth. We don’t know who’s guilty or innocent…and dirty little secrets hide behind every palm tree.

Of course, it would be remiss of me to not mention the police brutality in this film that felt very topical in today’s day and age. Racial profiling, inner racism and white privilege all reared their ugly heads in this movie about a broken police force – all the more proof that today’s fights eerily echo what those before us fought for as well – equality, basic human rights and the dismantling of those departments drunk with power and greed.


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