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 film's fantastic cast includes Cromwell, Pearce, Crowe, and Spacey.

The film’s fantastic cast includes Cromwell, Pearce, Crowe, and Spacey.

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:

This event was based on a real-life incident in L.A. in 1951.

This event was based on a real-life incident in L.A. in 1951.

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).

Simon Baker (left) got his big break in this film.

Simon Baker (left) got his big break in this film.

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.

Kim Basinger won an Oscar for her performance.

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.


~ by shadowsandsatin on December 23, 2013.

14 Responses to “Neo-Noir Spotlight: L.A. Confidential (1997)”

  1. It’s Guy Pearce’s facial reaction when he hears James Cromwell say “Rollo Tamasi” that gets to me – perfect acting, no words just a world of expression on his face. Brilliant write-up of one of the best films from the last 20 years.

  2. I love this film so much. I think I’ve missed all of the errors just because all of my attention gets caught up in the story and the acting.

  3. I love this movie. At the time I remember there being a bunch of great crime/thriller movies that really excited me- The Game, The Edge, Cop Land, Jackie Brown, but this one was the best. Have watched it many times since, and never get tired of it. Merry Christmas!

    • Merry Christmas, Kristina! I should’ve known that you would love this one, too. Speaking of Jackie Brown, that’s another one that I only saw once and remember really enjoying. I will have to give that one another rewatch, too.

  4. I had a very similar experience to yours. I also L.A. CONFIDENTIAL when it was theatrically released and I enjoyed it. About ten years later, I watched it on video and liked it even better. Obviously, it holds up surprisingly well, but it also seems a richer film the second time around.

  5. Hi Karen! I’ve been away for a while due to illness, but I’m happy to be back among the living. I’ve missed your wonderful blog. I couldn’t agree more about L.A. Confidential. I was enthralled as well, and found that a second viewing made it all the better. I don’t have it in my collection, but you’ve made me want to add it lickety-split! It’s hard to discuss much more about the movie without possibly spoiling it for someone, but wow, what a plot! There is more than one open-mouthed, unbelieving scene in this movie. Wonderful article, Karen, and happy new year!

    • Hi, Becky — I’m so glad to hear from you! I hope you’re feeling more like yourself. Thanks so much for your comment — I was so pleased to have stumbled on this movie; otherwise I might never have watched it again! Happy New Year — hope to hear from you again soon!

  6. This is my favourite neo-noir film, second only to Drive staring Ryan Gosling. Both are helping me write my YA neo-noir novel.

    Excellent review!

  7. […] Neo-Noir Spotlight: L.A. Confidential (1997) ( […]

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