‘L.A. Confidential’ (1997) revisited

❉ Nick Clement on Curtis Hanson’s neo-noir, first released on this day in 1997.

Curtis Hanson’s 1997 neo-noir L.A. Confidential is a brilliant film. It pays respect to an entire genre while simultaneously doing its own thing as a piece of art and entertainment. This striking piece of work would start that glorious run for Hanson in the late 90’s/early aughts (Wonder Boys, 8 Mile, and In Her Shoes would follow), but this is clearly his finest effort as a filmmaker, and it’s a movie that just gets better and better every time you take in a viewing.

Who would have thought that two young and relatively unknown Australian imports – Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe – would make such PERFECT 1950’s Los Angeles cops? The way they played off each other in this film was riveting, with Kevin Spacey as the ultimate comic foil to Pearce’s intensity and Crowe’s ferocity. Kim Basinger, in an Oscar-winning performance, is the heart and soul of the dense, incident-packed narrative (Hanson and Brian Helgeland won Oscar’s for adapting the seminal novel by James Ellroy), and the chemistry she shares with both Pearce and Crowe is electric. Dante Spinotti’s lush and muscular 2.35:1 widescreen cinematography is propulsive, slick, and gritty when necessary, and the way he captured the final shoot-out at the motel by moonlight is nothing short of sensational.

Jerry Goldsmith got invited back to the play in the crime noir genre, crafting a thundering and magnificent musical score (his notes here sit right next to his legendary work on 1974’s Chinatown), and the insane supporting cast includes seemingly every actor of the moment back in the day: James Cromwell, Ron Rifkin, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, Paul Guilfoyle, John Mahon, Simon Baker, and Darrell Sandeen.

I can remember seeing this film on the first weekend that it opened in wide release (these were the high school days!) and I immediately knew that I’d seen something special. Naturally, budding movie lunatic that I was, I’d go back the following weekend for more. And over the years, I can probably think of few films I’ve revisited more than this one. It’s fabulously entertaining, exceedingly stylish, every plot thread fits oh-so-snug, and the film’s numerous and often times bloody action sequences have a distinct visceral integrity without ever becoming gratuitous or unnecessary. It’s a shame that Hanson has passed away as I truly miss his classy and skillful cinematic touch.

❉ Nick Clement is a freelance writer, having contributed to Variety Magazine, Hollywood- Elsewhere, Awards Daily, Back to the Movies, and Taste of Cinema and is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.. He’s currently writing a book about the works of filmmaker Tony Scott.

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