The Good: Impressive cast, Good acting, Well written, Good direction
The Bad: Mostly "Hollywood" stuff, Pacing
The Basics: Well plotted, acted and directed, L.A. Confidential is more than just a classy detective story.
When I first started reviewing movies, I was a bit light on details. That has a lot to do with the site I wrote for. There, one of the mantras was to not simply recap the plot, but to evaluate it instead. As such, some of my oldest reviews say almost nothing about the film's plot and with the load of reviews I have to move, going back and watching all such movies would be a tremendously daunting task. L.A. Confidential is one such review that I found I glossed over many details on, though I recall truly enjoying the movie. I've done my best to bring the review up to my current standards . . . without rewatching it. Enjoy!
I was biased going into this film as I'm a fan of Kevin Spacey's work and just the opposite for Russel Crowe. Given that, I'm pleased to say I wasn't terribly disappointed. If anything, I have to say Guy Pearce deserves top billing for his character Exley. This film was actually the first one I saw Pearce in and it was no surprise to me that he would eventually dominate the opening of The Hurt Locker (click here for that review!).
For the life of me, I can't see why Kim Bassinger won an Oscar for this film. Her character has very little in the way of dialogue, she's a peripheral character. I think Pearce ought to get her award.
Outside the troubling backstage stuff, the only true problem with the film is how quickly it unwinds. Allow me to explain.
L.A. Confidential is essentially about three characters. Exley is a young upstart snitch in the L.A. police force who, after turning on his coworkers, is promoted to lieutenant. Spacey plays Jack Vincennes, a hollywood-tied cop who gets demoted as a result of Exley coming forward. Russel Crowe, in perhaps his best acting ever (though he is still ape-ish throughout the film) plays a deeply violent cop named Bud. Bud illustrates a remarkable protective instinct where women are involved and he avenges all violence to women whenever possible.
When Bud's ex-partner is killed, the three primaries are on the case. Exley attacks the case with vigilance and a methodical pattern, Bud attacks it with vengeance, and Jack uses his underworld source - played by Danny DeVito - to try to find the killers as well.
The bloodbath that opens the case is only the first in the film and the movie expertly weaves together the psychological aspects of the characters who are trying to make sense of the crime with the sociology of Los Angeles.
L.A. Confidential is a well-woven tale at the beginning. The three characters play off each other and their motivations and methods are interesting. Spacey and Devito spend much time on the screen interacting and it seems often pointless, but like everything else in the film, it comes together.
The characters are interesting and they're well acted and they're doing interesting things both in the methods they use and in that the case they're working on is an interesting one. When the murder seems resolved quickly enough, the three protagonists begin to question the conclusion and the true action and plot begin there.
This is a film that is best to go into cold. Don't read about the plot. Experience it.
The only serious defect within the plot comes not in the resolution but in the build-up to it. There is a long build-up establishing the case(s), the various players involved and who and what they are. When one element becomes apparent, all of the connections almost immediately reveal themselves. Thus, watching the film is like watching a loaded mousetrap. The trap sits there, a mouse sniffs around for some time, it tentative, then BANG! It's over.
The film is worth seeing because it has excellent actors acting well, bad actors acting their best, and compelling characters. The external search for the killer(s) is easily viewed as a metaphor for the internal searches the cops are doing throughout the film into their own psyches and goals. The plot winds and twists, but it pays off.
For other mysteries, please check out my reviews of:
No Country For Old Men
The Other Guys
For other movie reviews, please visit my index page for an organized listing by clicking here!
© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.