So I’m of the opinion that these days the art of classic style film making is dead. Everyone’s using post processing effects to change the colour tone to guide the audience towards what emotion the director wants you to feel, They’re using shaky/handheld came to allegedly make you feel like you’re in the scene with the actors, Musical scores are attempting to take over the image, plot threads are getting spelled out as if the audience are dribbling morons and worst of all characters just aren’t that complex or layered. Sure you get films that manage a few of these things but rarely all. This is why, in my opinion, LA. Confidential is the last truly great piece of film making produced by Hollywood. Sure there’s been excellent films but none that measure up to the craftsmanship of this particular picture. Click the link to read em failing to quite put into words what makes this film so great. I’ll try my best though…
L.A. Confidential’s plot revolves around 3 very different L.A. police officers, Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) a by the book politician of an officer with high career goals, Bud White (Russel Crowe) a good cop at heart who has a penchant for helping abused women and who’s seemingly accepted his role as the force brute and Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) cop to the stars, a man who advises on TV show Badge of Honor and loves every moment int eh spotlight that brings. When a recently discharged cop is murdered along with 5 other victims in a bar Exley is assigned the case to bring the killers in, but even after the case is closed something doesn’t add up and Exley set’s about figuring out the truth. At the same time Bud and Vincennes are also realising that the role they play in the force may not be the one they truly need and their interest in the killings lead them to begin their own investigations into the truth. Along the way the uncover lies, conspiracies and cover ups galore whilst discovering some truths about themselves and who they can really be beyond the image they show the world.
The whole film is about that image. Everyone has either something to hide or something they need to show. Exley is shunned by many of his peers due to his politicking and by the books style, it also doesn’t help that he willingly testified against a group of officers who brought a violent shame down on the precinct. He has justice at the front of his mind all the time and, as shown early on with his superior Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), he is not willing to partake in suspect dealings in order to put someone away. His arc is about how he needs to prove to the other cops just how good he is, and it leads him down a few dark routes. This all stems from the death of his father, also a cop, who’s death went unpunished.
Bud White is a brutish cop who is prone to dealing out violent beatings to anyone who has harmed a woman, with good reason too, he’s become the cop that Captain Smith has utilised in his extra curricular attacks on crime because of his willingness to cause harm on command. He has a softer side which he reveals to a high class hooker named Lynn Bracken. She is the only character who knows who she truly is. She is par of a ring of hookers made up to look like famous movie stars, in her case Veronica Lake. She knows her role and accepts the cards she’s been dealt in life. It is through Lynn that Bud learns that he can be the smart cop like Exley, that he isn’t just muscle.
Jack Vincennes has fallen in love with the Hollywood life he has gained since becoming a cop show adviser. he works with celebrity expose magazine writer Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) to trap and catch high profile crimes, usually in the process getting his face in the newspaper whilst stood in front of a film premier. He’s a celebrity officer who’s managed to forget why he became a cop because this new role is more exciting. Eventually though it backfires on him and he realises the damage his set ups can cause. Eventually the 3 cops find ways of working together trading off on each others skills allowing them to uncover a lie they couldn’t have on their own.
L.A. Confidential’s plot twists and weaves like a knitted scarf made by a granny on a rollercoaster. It never slows down and every single scene grips you and holds on to your attention tightly. The intricacies and subtleties of the screenplay are shown through just how well all the threads come together and all the tiny details that tell you about the characters and their progression. Little things like Exleys need for glasses, he is told to lose them multiple times and he does. At a crucial point he forgets them and end’s up in a gun fight that he would have normally avoided. People get killed and he see’s a horrific vision of what he could become. From then on he is barely without them. As though he saw what, almost literally, being blind to the truth of the situation lead him to do and now he wants them on to make sure he get’s nothing wrong. it’s like a safety net for him and though it’s never said out loud your brain will pick up on it. The story itself is so intricate I couldn’t begin to explain just how well all the threads come together. All I can say is that as the plot threads entwine it is like watching a tapestry come together. When the ture villain is revealed you’ll be there putting all the pieces together and realising just how well the clues were placed.
The entire film is shot in a classical steady manner. A skill that seems to have been dying in cinema recently, although ironically the advent of 3D has led to a calmer way of shooting due to technical limitations of the format. The camera work in L.A. Confidential is part of the story telling as it should be. The scenes are never about the period imagery but instead they focus on framing each shot like it was the most important shot of the film. The way the camera travels through some shots is beautiful, always giving you all the information you need at the time and a little extra to sit on the mind for later use. There’s no reliance on gimmicky camerawork or editing to make the audience feel anything other than what the performances are putting across. That is how camerawork on a film such as this should be. You wouldn’t know it these days though as similar thrillers seem obsessed with tinting the image blue when the directors wants a stark scene and orange when they want you to feel some sort of intense drama. Modern thrillers also rely on the ever moving world of drunken shaky cam as if they think the audience want’s to feel like they’re in the scene, and presumably a little bit drunk. There’s a reason the best directors lock their cameras down. Watching a film on any screen is like looking at a scene unfolding through a window. It’s a near voyeuristic experience at times but always from a safe distance. If you can’t get your scenes emotion or narrative across without using gimmicks you’re doing it wrong. Props must deservedly go to DOP Dante Spinotti for his work on this film. Well deserving of the Best Cinematography Oscar he was nominated for for his work on this film.
I honestly do struggle to find fault with L.A. Confidential. It’s a film I put in the very upper tier of movie making. One that’s easily comparable to one of the greatest of all time in Chinatown. Although Film Noir it is not. This is a crime thriller first and foremost and the closest it comes to Noir is the traditional Noir setting and the odd venetian blind int eh background. It is a masterclass in thriller storytelling and classical film making. I hope that the future directors of this world are spending more time studying films such as this and Chinatown rather than believing every film that get’s an Oscar nomination these days is an instantly great film. I’m not saying modern films are worthless, they just aren’t quite this good.