‘This is the City of the Angels, and you haven’t got any wings…’
Some films have a big impact and then live long after the credits have rolled in the form of articles, memes and Academy recognition. Other films, despite being brilliant, seem to slip away from the public consciousness over time. There is no rule or reason to this, it just is. L.A. Confidential made a big splash upon release back in 1997. Curtis Hanson’s film noir was nominated for nine Oscars and featured on every top 10 list going at the end of the year, and despite being inducted into the United States Library of Congress National Film Registry in 2015, L.A. Confidential is not a film that has had much of an afterlife. I can’t for the life of me understand why…
In 1950s Los Angeles, the LAPD and the DA are working hard to clean up the city’s image. The incarceration of noted gangster Mickey Cohen sets off a chain of events including murder, corruption and extortion. Three very different cops investigate a brutal slaying at a downtown diner that seems to hold the key to a vast conspiracy.
The entire cast is phenomenal here, but it is the three main players that push L.A. Confidential into the upper echelons of filmmaking. Russell Crowe captures the fire and the fury of Bud White – protector of women, while Guy Pearce is the ambitious, smarmy yin to Crowe’s yang as up and coming, rising star Edmund Exley. Kevin Spacey rounds off the trio and gives perhaps the finest performance of the entire piece as “Hollywood” Jack Vincennes, a cop who can’t remember why he became a cop in the first place.
Director Curtis Hanson and screenwriter Brian Helgeland use the Night Owl murders as a means to show the character arc for three cops who could all have carried a film of their own. There is no black and white in L.A. Confidential, each character inhabits their own shade of grey. Everyone is working an angle in the City of Angels, and everyone has their price. Portraying LA as a hotbed of vice and scandal may not be pretty, but it is refreshing to see a film that not only acknowledges the dark side that exists in all of us, it revels in it. Basking in the obsidian underbelly of human nature.
L.A. Confidential was a big deal when it hit, but it has become somewhat forgotten in the years that have followed. That doesn’t make Hanson’s film any less of a classic, and perhaps L.A. Confidential is better suited to the dark corners. A forgotten gem. A lost classic. A masterpiece.