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L.A. Confidential

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: L.A. Confidential

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe
Director: Curtis Hanson
Rated: R
RunTime: 136 Minutes
Release Date: September 1997
Genres: Mystery, Drama, Action, Suspense


*Also starring: James Cromwell, Guy Pearce, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Simon Baker



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Intricate in design, bold in execution, and rife with thrilling acting especially by Russell Crowe as a tough cop with a complex code of morality, "L.A. Confidential" scores as one of the great police dramas of our time. With Curtis Hanson's direction of a film co-written by Brian Helgeland, the sometimes perplexing but always engrossing plot threads twist and turn but finally entwine in a movie filled with brazen surprises, Hollywood references to delight any movie buff, and a thoroughly adult piece which honors the text of James Ellroy's sophisticated novel.

Though "L.A. Confidential" deals with the Hollywood of the 1950's, recent stories of police brutality, particularly of the abuse suffered by Haitian immigrant Abner Louiama at the hands of officers in Brooklyn's 70th precinct give it a contemporary resonance. If "L.A. Confidential" were simply an account of police depravity and mob-generated crime, it would be a typical, though quite exciting story. But in faithfully adapting Ellroy's novel, Hanson brings to the fore some musings about ethics and an outlook on the mysterious attraction between male and female, along with an evocation of superior acting from his performers that rival even Jack Nicholson's exceptional accomplishment in Roman Polanski's "Chinatown."

The story begins with the arrest of California drug lord Mickey Cohen on income tax evasion, often the only weapon which law enforcement officers could use to bring otherwise protected gangsters to justice. Determined to prevent other kingpins from filling the vacuum in mob leadership, the L.A. police department employs extra-legal tactics to chase the usual suspects out of the state. At the same time, some members of the force are more than willing to use excessive vigor in dealing with petty criminals, particularly Mexicans and blacks. When Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), a bespectacled and college-educated lieutenant, pulls a Serpico by snitching on fellow officers who had used their fists and blackjacks gratuitously against Mexican-Americans, he is shunned by others in the precinct. But Exley is not the only cop with a distinct temperament in the precinct house: Sgt Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), known as a celebrity policeman after busting Robert Mitchum for drug possession, advises a TV show, "Badge of honor" and enjoys an alliance with Hush- Hush tabloid magazine editor Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito) who informs Vincennes of upcoming vice activity, allows the policeman to make the arrests, and takes action pictures of the exercises. Bud White (Russell Crowe), still another unique type in the station house, has a high moral code especially in matters of protecting women, but has no compunctions in shooting down suspects whom he known are guilty but who would otherwise probably get away with their crimes.

While introducing one complexity after another including a look at a high-priced prostitution ring managed by millionaire Pierce Patchett (David Strathaim)--who employs attractive women made over to look like movie stars--Hanson supplies plenty of visceral action. Severe beatings inflicted by cops on petty gangsters are followed by a bloody scene at the Night Owl Coffee shop, an alleged robbery that results in the execution of six victims. While a multitude of activities is carried on against drug criminals, rapists, kidnappers and hookers, the center of the film is the conflict between the repressed but brutally honest cop, Ed Exley, and the violent but sentimental sergeant Bud White, a tension that reaches fever pitch when White discovers a brief liaison between Exley and Veronica-Lake lookalike Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger). As mob activity works to bring the two contentious cops together against a common enemy, Hanson brings his story to an explosive conclusion, one which unravels the complications and assures us that what has transpired makes a great deal of sense.

Kim Basinger as the irresistible Lynn Bracken is in top shape in every way as the high-priced hustler working out of her expensive L.A. digs, and while Kevin Spacey does not get the opportunity to equal his dynamic performance in "The Usual Suspects," he comes across quite well as the suave cop whose career rivals the stories often told on evening TV police dramas. Rounding out the cast, Danny DeVito is intentionally comic as a founder of modern tabloids, David Strathaim is elegant and assured as L.A.'s leading pimp, Ron Rifkin appropriately oily as an AC-DC D.A. and James Cromwell convinces as a police captain with a hidden agenda.

Best of all, New Zealand-born Russell Crowe illuminates the screen, all traces of his kiwi accent gone, as a ruggedly handsome, charismatic and complex human being in a movie filled with comic touches, forceful action, and stunning Los Angeles setting.

Copyright 1997 Harvey Karten

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