Brian Helgeland’s keen script and Hanson’s skill at shorthand storytelling shine in this crisp Hollywood police mystery. One of those 90s releases that was a success on every level. Box office hit, critical acclaim, award darling, has remained part of the cinematic conversation… so when I say I really, really like it, it feels like I’m somehow doing it a disservice.
The cast is perfect. I get the feeling Brian Helgeland (who adapted James Ellroy dark, dense, engorged novel) had the most pleasure with building and introducing these characters. Each one flawed by the very psychology that drives them, that defines them. Pearce’s clean cut Ed Exley, is greedily ambitious and without loyalty. Crowe’s Bud White a white knight for a damsel-in-distress whose urge to violence pigeonholes him. Spacey’s fame hungry sharp is all surface, no heart, until his conscience is ressurected.
The mystery resolving itself is done slickly, with an iconic and fantastic third act reveal (“Rollo Tomasi?”), but it isn’t the later cool stuff that clings to the memory banks. After we meet everyone, get the measure of them and their foibles, there is minimal fat on the storytelling. Which is a slight shame as the more indulgent moments are the highlights and the action sequences are lean rather than beefy. L.A. Confidential moves at such a clip that very few individual moments stick… you are left days and weeks later more with a vibe and a feeling rather distinct memories of classic scenes.
This is popcorn for adults. Debonair, crafted, polished, wise. The nasty edges of Ellroy’s text are smoothed, the allure of sleaze and corruption dominate over the violence. Hanson builds a ‘straight out of central casting’ world of fresh lines, unsmudged suits, not a hair is out of place. Like Kim Basinger’s prostitute made to look like Lana Turner, an immaculate forgery, taking us to us to a lost era of glamour and unattainability, making its forbidden erotic nature at the very least almost touchable for a couple of hours.
Perfect Double Bill: Mulholland Falls (1996)
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