Neo-Noir Spotlight: L.A. Confidential (1997)
Up to now, all of the noir films I’ve discussed on this blog have been from the classic era of the 1940s and 1950s. But last night, I watched a noir from the “neo” era, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It’s L.A. Confidential, and if you’ve never seen it, you don’t know what you’re missing. (Well, I guess that’s kind of obvious, but you know what I mean.)
Last night was actually my second viewing of this outstanding feature – I first saw it 16 years ago when it was released in 1997 – I was pregnant at the time with my younger daughter. (In fact, while watching it last night, I joked on Twitter that it was a wonder my child hadn’t emerged biting her nails and smoking a cigarette!)
From my first initial viewing, I recalled that the film was excellent and that I enjoyed it, but for some reason, I don’t think I really remembered just how good it was.
The story is set in 1953 and focuses on three LAPD cops – Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), who works on the side as consultant to a popular TV show and cares more about the glamorous side of his job than actually catching bad guys; Wendell “Bud” White (Russell Crowe), a dedicated cop with a volatile temper and a soft spot for abused women; and bespectacled Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce), whose ambition is almost his undoing. Other characters in the film include police captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell); Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger, in an Oscar-winning performance), a high-end call girl who looks like Veronica Lake; Lynn’s wealthy and unflappable pimp, Pierce Morehouse Patchett (David Strathairn); and Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), publisher of a scandal rag called Hush.
The noirish plot is appropriately labyrinthine, with more twists and turns than Mulholland Drive, but it centers primarily on a mass murder at a local diner and the efforts of the three officers to solve the crime. Based on a James Ellroy novel, the film blends real-life occurrences and personalities with the fictional goings-on. I’m not even going to try to go into more details than that; instead, I’ll offer up a few miscellaneous bits of whatnot about this fabulous flick:
One of the real-life events that finds its way into the film was the Bloody Christmas incident in 1951, during which seven prisoners, mostly Hispanic, were savagely beaten by members of the L.A. police department.
The film also depicts gangster Mickey Cohen, Cohen’s henchman Johnny Stompanato, and Stompanato’s girlfriend, actress Lana Turner. (Incidentally, although the movie takes place in 1953, Stompanato and Turner weren’t involved until 1957 and 1958. Stompanato was killed by Turner’s daughter, Cheryl, following an argument with the famed actress. Or so the story goes.)
The film was directed by Curtis Hanson, who also worked on the screenplay. Reportedly, in order to prepare his cast and crew for the noir-era film, Hanson showed them a number of noir classics, including In a Lonely Place (1950), Private Hell 36 (1954), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), and The Killing (1956).
Actor Simon Baker, who currently stars in the CBS series The Mentalist, made his big screen debut in this film, playing an ill-fated, wanna-be actor. He was billed under his real name, Simon Baker Denny.
Speaking of Simon Baker, he, and two of the film’s stars, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, were all raised in Australia. Baker was born there, while Pearce was born in England and Crowe was born in New Zealand.
At a certain point in the movie, one character asks another, “Have you a valediction?” I had no idea what this meant, but after a few quick keyboard stokes, I learned that a valediction is the action of saying farewell; parting words. Now you know.
This film is apparently brimming with goofs and little continuity errors (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The only one I noticed was the Stompanato/Turner timeline issue, but I plan to watch it again and look for them. If you go to the film’s page on IMDB, they’re all listed there.
I watched this entire movie sitting cross-legged on my bed – I barely moved a muscle during the entire production, and spent a great deal of it with one hand clapped over my mouth – that’s how good it was. If you’ve never seen L.A. Confidential, do yourself a favor and hunt it down – you can buy it for cheap on DVD, view it for free on Amazon if you have Prime, or check it out on any number of other Internet sites. And if you’ve seen it, this may just be the perfect time to rediscover it!
You only owe it to yourself.