In 1990, James Ellroy released a massive novel L.A. Confidential (the third in the Los Angeles quartet), which tells of the crimes, lies, and inner demons of Los Angeles police officers in 50th years of XX century. 500-page ‘Talmud’ seemed unassailable for a screen, but not for Curtis Hanson. After his two-grossing films (The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and Wild River), he was able to get this project. Hanson and his assistants began to write and rewrite the script, cutting and carving the story lines and trying to lead the logical order. In the history of movie Curtis Hanson will remain a director of one film, so everyone is wondering how a good, but not outstanding craftsman was able to shoot one of the most iconic American films of 1990s. Henson’s childhood took place in Los Angeles in 1950s, and the children’s experience may have helped him to recreate the atmosphere of the city and transfer it to an ambiguous image – dirty inside and polished outside.
L.A. Confidential is not only a tribute to the city, but also to the entire era in cinematograph. The film is almost unanimously considered to be a neo-noir. Indeed, L.A. Confidential corresponds to some elements of ‘black’ film such as an intricate criminal plot, a lack of goodies, a mountain of corpses, ins and outs of the city, and a heavy dose of misogyny. On the other hand, the director refuses traditional methods of noir, namely special light, which does not select the actor from the situation, and the action mostly in the dark time of day. He also smoothed the rough edges of the original source by melodramatic techniques and pretty happy ending.
L.A. Confidential as Classic of ‘Black’ Detective
L.A. Confidential is one of the best police stories, filmed in the genre of ‘black’ detective. Curtis Hanson has very skillfully and artfully styled every image, every inch of the plot in the film under 50s, which, naturally, looks very impressive. The film has all the attributes, necessary for a classic ‘black’ detective. First of all, it is steep policeman (Russell Crowe) in relations with the underworld, ignoring the law, but still existing in the frame of some moral principles. Young, but ambitious cop (Guy Pearce) is not destroyed yet concerning the concepts of good and evil, attempting to lead his own crusade against crime on two fronts – in the streets and at the police office. The film is, of course, fulfilled by very bad cops, creepy antagonists, which the main characters take principled confrontation with.
Regarding a detective as a movie genre, it should be said that all detectives can be divided into two categories: psychological and action-detectives. The first one focuses on dialogues, thoughts of the main characters, in general, on the psychological aspects. But in this case there is no need to choose. This is perhaps the most striking example of the film, which combines these two types of detective. So, fans of these genres can safely watch this movie, because the best features of these two genres coexist harmoniously in L.A. Confidential.
The plot of the film revolves around a mass murder in a cafe, for which mobster Mickey Cohenis is believed to be responsible. In the course of the investigation, all three detectives appear to be involved in the crimes of new twists and betrayals, which indicate that there is a ‘mole’ in the Police Department. The main theme of the film is that the director wanted to show that the majority of police officers do not differ from the criminals, that they use the same bandit methods violating the law. The most typical episode is when the Russell Crowe hero broke into the house seeing that the offender was unarmed, but killed him, and adjusted everything as if it was self-defense.
Talking about the main heroes of the movie, Edmund Exley is a typical careerist. He is ready to go up and knock down everything in his path, which clearly shows his dedication. However, he is a good guy; sex is garbage for him, and curses are not interesting. Colleagues consider him to be a coward and a wimp.
Bud White is a brutal cop, for whom justice is above all. Lacking strong intellect, he is capable for compassion. His mother was killed young, but White did not find a murder. Now he is willing to kill everyone and everything who assault women. Characteristically, he knocks out the recognition of the suspects only by brute force and abusive bullying. Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe) and Detective Lt. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) have a common problem – an acute sense of justice. White is a cad in some way, but he is very tough cop. His motto is ‘First, hook, then – the questions’. Taking into account his difficult childhood, Bud hates louts beating women, and he is an executive, but dumb employee. Exley, his opposite, is a young climber, a cop’s son. Frail does not prevent Exley from moving up the career ladder. He is shrewd, cunning and cannot tolerate corruption in the organs. Exley will rather betray comrade-in-arms, than give him an opportunity to circumvent the law.
Jack Vinsenns is ‘a cop with ties’. He has charisma and considers himself to be a storm for drug addicts, the Winner with a capital letter! For a complete happiness he needs only a socialite with a rich dad, and he finds her. The absence of morality means his willingness to betray a comrade in show business.
Lynn Bracken is a prostitute with a very strong psychological identity. All three men, described above have either seen her, or have been in a close contact with her. However, she has a magical power of attraction. She is able to play with men, and it is sometimes very frank.
Love and Moral Qualities in Film
It should me mentioned that there is rather a large part of the characters, both positive and negative. However, they share one thing: everyone has his or her secrets. Now, we will transfer smoothly from the characters to the thoughts and discuss the main idea of the novel. Naturally this novel is about the banal friendship and hatred: a friend turns into a brother while in troubles, and an enemy turns into a friend. No doubt, this movie is about love and many other moral qualities and actions of the person. Although, it would not be interesting, if no secrets of the past were kept.
Technically and in terms of the script, the film is almost perfect. Trying to inherit noir style, the director followed the middle path, without turning the film into a nostalgic work of art. Moreover, the form of work is quite modern. Using the elements of the era only for styling allowed the film to become a favorite one with the public and win favor with academics. Finding no specific deficiencies, L.A. Confidential, however, is difficult to attribute to the top of the director’s skill, as Hanson does not reinvent the wheel. He just very successfully and skillfully used popular techniques and got a stunningly accurate cast. It is one of the samples of perfect film, a kind of fairy tale for adults, reminiscent of the golden era of Hollywood hits. In fact, the main advantage of L.A. Confidential is that it has breathed life into the classical genre of the American film industry.