“Go back to Jersey, sonny. This is the City of the Angels, and you haven’t got any wings.”
Good crime movies are a well-oiled machine. The complexity lies in the screenplay, a careful puppet show where strings are pulled left and right and every character wants one thing badly. L.A. Confidential feels like a movie that should be studied for how well it works the formula. It’s a film that juggles an ensemble of players, situations, and themes, and it packs hard-hitting surprises. Backed with a knockout cast of actors, the film is perfect. I think there are plenty of better crime movies, but aside from the obligatory misogyny, there isn’t much room to complain. It’s a well-oiled criminal epic that chugs along perfectly.
The top L.A. crime boss has been brought down, and now it’s anyone’s game. Someone new is planning a rise to the top, and a multiple homicide at a diner may be the key to it all. The burden falls on three cops (Kevin Spacey, Russell Brand, and Guy Pearce), and their methods differ wildly. In a wild thrill ride of betrayal, sex, and ambition, each man chases what he desires while a ruthless villain hides in plain sight.
The direction by Curtis Hanson adds a fun tone to the film. An opening narration by Danny DeVito is cheesy, but it lifts the tension that the beginning of a movie must always overcome. The early scenes ease the viewer into a world where comic violence is just part of the job, and then it drops moral ambiguity and complicated decision-making into the mix. It makes for a fast, fun movie that surprises you with how invested you’ve become by the halfway point.
The characters are well-written and driven by objectives that define them. Guy Pearce is a standout as the less glamorous but integral role of Ed Exley, the straight-laced detective who finds more opposition in his own police force than from any criminal on the streets. It’s a part reminiscent of Ethan Hawke in Training Day, with a similar degree of tension. Kevin Spacey gives his standard performance as a sleazy sell-out cop connected with local tabloids, and Russell Brand is the run-away star as a muscle man striving for something greater if he could only be “smart enough.” The film’s women are also complex characters who drive the plot in a meaningful, progressive way. Just kidding, they’re written as sex objects.
There isn’t a lot of new ground to cover with L.A. Confidential. It’s a film that covers old ground, but it does so really well. The script is layered and surprising, hitting the genre beats with enough fun details and sharp twists that you never feel too sure about its direction. I’m not the biggest fan of cop movies, but L.A. Confidential is pretty great for a cop movie.
Films Left to Watch: 824