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Final Film Critique La Confidential

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Final Film Critique – LA Confidential
Adam Ehinger
Ashford University: ENG225
Instructor Michael O'Donnell

Sometimes a movie makes a lasting impression on you as an individual, sometimes you'll come back to this movie time and time again. LA Confidential (1997) is a combination of a star studded cast and a scintillating detective story set in the 50's. The movie combines all aspects of movie making, from acting, directing, writing, mise en scene and all sorts of film techniques to make one of the most entertaining noir's you'll ever see.

LA Confidential (1997) is directed by Curtis Hanson, he doesn't have this prolific history of stunning movies like some other directing heavy weights but he handles an a-list cast and directing duties admirably here. While most of the big names in the cast weren't technically BIG names yet they must have still had personalities or needed work to get the job done. Notably at least to me is Kim Basinger, someone who usually I do not enjoy, usually a weak point in movies for me, but in this she is perfectly fine, nothing to much, but not noticeable like usual, a feat in directing to me.

The cast is name after name, Russel Crowe as the ham fisted Officer Bud White, Kevin Spacey playing the mercurial Detective Jack Vincennes, Guy Pearce in my eyes as his break out performance playing the golden child Ed Exley. You have a plethora of famous character actors to back these boys up, David Strathairn as the rich Pierce Patchett, Danny DeVito sliming the place up as Sid Hudgens a enquirer type reporter. James Cromwell plays the police chief Dudley Smith and plays him to aplomb. The cast is fantastic even getting a good turn from Kim Basinger as Lynn Bracken a whore cut to look like Veronica Lake.

Cinematography is captured by Dante Spinotti and the movie is adapted from the novel written by James Ellroy. The screenplay being written by Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson the movie takes a complicated book and stays mostly true to its source. The movie retains a nice form of complexity while not being overly obtuse, a feat that seems to be growing more rare these days. The movie is set in the 50's and everything is done to capture that feeling, that time era, the cars, the houses, the decoration, the clothes, everything is 50's.

The movie was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, winning 2. Best Supporting Actress, KIM BASINGER, And Best Writing. It was a blockbuster but not in the sense blockbusters are now, now you think of huge budget big explosions, special effects driven movies. I think of movies that are released in every theater, able to preform well across all markets not just niches like a large number of indie movies. The genre is Noir, detectives with vices must overcome themselves and said vices to figure out just whats going on in the city of Angels.

The story is a simple one, a group of detectives are faced with solving a murder spree, once solved things begin to make the detectives question if the case was really solved or not. While the story is simple the plot ratchets up the intensity with a plethora of twists and turns, eventually culminating in an exciting finale. The story is one you see often in Noir or detective movies, but it's the twists and turns, the characters that make this one so good.

Three detectives, each different find themselves embroiled in the Night Owl massacre one way or another, Officer White (Russel Crowe) has his former partner being one of the victims and being a part of Captain Smith's enforcing group, he slowly figures out somethings wrong, and senses corruption or the smell of something at least. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) rockets up the ranks by playing snitch, he will do anything to get ahead except breaking the rules, he wants to do it all by the book. He co leads the investigation with Captain Dudley Smith, he ends up bagging the lead given by the captain of three Negroes toting shotguns, they rescue a girl from sexual slavery basically.

Detective Exley realizes something is wrong when he talks more with said girl they saved realizing the boys he ended up having to kill, were not responsible for the Night Owl Murders. He enlists the aid of Detective Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey). Vincennes loves the spotlight, he also loves the quick buck he gets from working with Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) a sleazy reporter setting people up so he can have headlines. Vincennes loses his ability to be on the show Badge Of Honor and almost as if a wake up call, he realizes he doesn't quite like what he's become. He ends up stumbling on the murder of a young guy trying to make it in show biz (Simon Baker). The kid is a set up for Sid to get a juicy headline but the kid ends up murdered by the DA, a case that will inevitably be buried, Vincennes feels responsible.

In exchange for helping Ed, Vincennes wants his help in bringing the kids murder to light, Ed ignites a passion in Vincennes he lost. Ed tells the story of Rollo Tamassi a made up name for the mystery man who killed his father in a routine traffic stop this is Ed's reason for wanting to be a cop and do it by the book. Vincennes realizes he doesn't remember why he became a cop and decides to try and redeem himself, together they start to unveil that there is indeed more to the Night Owl Murders then first blush.

Meanwhile Officer White has gotten caught up in a relationship with Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) She's a hooker cut to look like Lana Turner, shes a part of a ring of prostitutes cut to look like movie stars run by one Mr. Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn). Vincennes stumbles on some alarming evidence revealing that the Night Owl murder may have been over drugs, he wants to tell Ed but goes to his captain first. Dudley Smith reveals he is a little more then just the police captain when he shoots Vincennes dead after he divulges he knows more about the murders. Vincennes gets the lat laugh though by muttering Rollo Tamassi to Captain Smith.

Captain Smith tries to follow up on the Tamassi name and says it to Ed Exley, who immediately knows Smith is dirty. He digs on what Vincennes was on, Smith meanwhile turns Bud loose on Ed to end the run around. After the two collide, literally and figuratively, they unite to take down Captain Dudley Smith, only to realize all their leads are turning up dead. Captain Smith sets them up for one last trap by tricking them into meeting up at an abandoned hotel, the one where they do their “interrogations”.

After a desperate shootout, with Bud taking a shot to the face, Captain Smith and Ed remain, cops showing up. Captain Smith satisfied turns his back on Ed knowing he wouldn't shoot him with the cops cresting the hill. Ed breaks the rules for once and blows Captain Smith away, leading to a mess for the LAPD to clear up. Ed being the ever smart one proposes a tidy way to explain everything. With everything explained convincingly and avoiding the embarrassment of the police chief being a part of a drug trafficking scam, everyone wins. Bud leaves with Lynn, with considerable injuries, Ed is a hero, the police department avoids utter embarrassment. Phew. That's a lot to cover, like I said, the movie twists and turns and lives off of its fantastic characters.

The Mise En Scene covers so much in a movie, sound is a good place to start though, the music of course is gonna be 50's music throughout. It helps set the mood, well really it's the only way to keep the immersion, if you have songs from different eras, you are pulling the viewer out. The score is good, helps keep the tension, the gun shots guttural, everything sounds great and exactly how it should be.

A particular scene stands out to me as being masterfully done, the final shoot out takes place at night in a rundown hotel. There is no lighting, besides the moonlight, it creates tension, they are confined to the house as a dozen dirty cops try to get to them. The set piece is utilized wonderfully, as Ed and Bud use the building and its rundown condition to battle the cops. It's great lighting and interaction with the set and props. A great combination of Mise En Scene and overall a great scene.

Another scene that stands out is the editing of the scene where Captain Dudley shoots Vincennes. You have Vincennes calmly sitting and explaining the investigation to Dudley, unaware of who is revealing the information too. The quick cuts the hiding of Dudley's front half as he makes “tea” all creates a sense of calm or at least you relax with Vincennes. Only to suddenly see Jack shot which is startling and heart breaking, the first time I saw it I was yelling NO, in my mind.

The movie was nominated for several awards but it didn't have an impact on society. Not that it needed to or was even trying to, the aim was to entertain and it did. When I watched LA Confidential I had already begun to really immerse myself in movies. Seeing the cast I got excited, looking at reviews I got even more excited. Watching it for the first time, I was enthralled.

The movie made me aware of Noir, it made me fall in love with the genre. After watching this I went out and watched Noir classics such as Chinatown and Double Indemnity. Being my entry drug into Noir, LA Confidential will always have a place in my heart, it does everything so well, it has a sterling cast, it's set pieces, costumes are all fantastic and absorbing. The story is enthralling from beginning to end never really easing up enough for me to wonder what I'll do after the movie.

The movie strives to be convincing of its time period, it wants you to be beguiled by its characters. The combination of excellent directing, writing, acting and Mise En Scene really elevate the movie to another level. When you think of great Noir movies, LA Confidential should jump to your mind, it revitalized the genre, not quite like Chinatown, but it certainly gave it a new voice, a highly entertaining one at that.


I think so much can be gained analyzing film, there are so many subtle meanings in movies, the styles used, the techniques used. I look at lighting and props completely different now, I look at them in a more analytical approach, does this dim the grandeur of movies to me? A bit, but it's a more keen eye now instead of one trying to be distracted. I realize the work of lighting and the work of jobs such as cinematographer is so important, before it didn't register much with me. I have developed an appreciation for all aspects of the movie not just the finished product.

Before I would watch a movie and if it didn't bore me or worse incite me against it I would give a positive review and say it needs to be seen or something, lots of 4 out of 5's. Now I look at the movie in a bigger picture, I look at many things in the movie, it pulls me out of the immersion a little but it's fine, if a movie can't sustain that degree of immersion or hold up to a little scrutiny, it isn't a 4 out of 5 is it! In the end I feel like I see more then I did before.

I don't think the way I perceive movies in society has changed to drastically, I always knew movies have an impact on society. Not all movies do of course but certain ones ask pertinent questions, some try to give answers. I think more now then before that movies or directors owe there audience the whole truth not just glorified bits as I referenced in my discussion on American Sniper (2014). In the end I've really enjoyed this class, obviously, I love movies! Looking at finer details is something I picked up a better understanding of in this class and that can be used anywhere in life, I appreciate the work I've done and feel like I've learned a great deal on movies.

References – Movie titles, dates, various.

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