I see Bud because I want to. I see Bud because he can’t hide the good inside of him. I see Bud because he treats me like Lynn Bracken and not some Veronica Lake look-alike who fucks for money.
— Lynn Bracken
It has been years since I have seen Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential. Too long, I should say. This is currently #61 on the Top 250 of All-Time on IMDb. It deserves to be there. I thought it was overshadowed by a certain movie about a doomed boat that dominated the 1997 Oscars. It managed to win Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay for Hanson and fellow screenwriter Brian Helgeland and Best Supporting Actress honors for Kim Basinger. This movie is a masterpiece. There I said it.
Based on the first book from author James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet trilogy, it starts with the murder of known drug dealer, Mickey Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle). This triggers a systematic takedown of his men. Three 1950s LA cops have to deal with the case from different angles. Officer Bud White, played by at the time unknown to American audiences Russell Crowe. White was the brute of the force that has a short fuse. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) that thinks that he is the star of the precinct because he is the technical advisor on the hit TV cop show, “Badge of Honor.” He is in cahoots with sleazy gossip columnist, Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) trading criminals and drugs for money and headlines in Hush-Hush magazine. Sgt. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is the straight-laced officer that wants to a detective, but doesn’t have the stomach for the job.
Exley witnesses the extent of the corruption in the station when a group of Mexicans are beaten by most of the officers, because they were suspects of beating up a couple of cops. The fallout of this incident trickled down when White is suspended for not testifying against his boozy partner, Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel). Exley is the complete opposite; he would be labeled ‘the snitch’ to get a new promotion, a deputy lieutenant. Vincennes is reassigned from narcotics to vice. Fellow officers would backstab each other to save their own asses. White would be the muscle working under Capt. Dudley (James Cromwell).
At one of the drug-related murder scenes, Vincennes finds a card for “Fleur-de-lis” that could be connected to a murder at the Nite Owl Café where Stensland gets killed. The station thinks that a trio of Negro shooters was responsible for it. They hunt them down. Meanwhile, White recognizes of one of the victims as a girl he has seen in the back of Pierce Patchett’s (David Strathairn) car with Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) in tow. White learns that Patchett is running a prostitution ring to make the call girl look like Hollywood movie stars.
As the investigation intensifies, loyalties are tested, friendships are broken, and people show their true colors.
I may not have written how brilliant this movie is. All I say is that Curtis Hanson has a created a movie that had fantastic, crisp dialogue delivered perfectly from the main stars to the supporting players. The tension was there. I was on the edge of my seat. I know what was coming, but I still felt something about the characters. What is going to happen to them? The costumes, the art direction, it felt like I was in the 1950s. It didn’t feel like a fake movie set. It was organic. It had a life of its own. I appreciate that. Brava, Mr. Hanson.
Judgment: A fantastic film noir that makes you could to revisit more of them after watching this.