Monday, September 19, 2011
Today I watched L.A. Confidential, directed by Curtis Hanson in 1997, which I recently picked up on Blu-ray. I really love this movie, and I was excited to get a chance to watch it again. I think I first saw it in a film noir film and pulp fiction class that I took in college. We were reading James Ellroy novels and watched this, and I remember just thinking it was amazing. I love how strangely smoothly the plot comes together before we can even realize it, and the focus on the psychology of the main characters is so great. I never read the James Ellroy novel this was adapted from, but his writing style is different and tough, and I really appreciated the challenge that the writers took on in adapting this film. Even though Danny DeVito is narrating in the opening scenes of the film, I always hear James Ellroy's voice instead. It's just something he would say, you know?
The plot is a little twisted and complicated, but this summary on IMDB is actually really great: "1950's Los Angeles is the seedy backdrop for this intricate noir-ish tale of police corruption and Hollywood sleaze. Three very different cops are all after the truth, each in their own style: Ed Exley, the golden boy of the police force, willing to do almost anything to get ahead, except sell out; Bud White, ready to break the rules to seek justice, but barely able to keep his raging violence under control; and Jack Vincennes, always looking for celebrity and a quick buck until his conscience drives him to join Exley and White down the one-way path to find the truth behind the dark world of L.A. crime."
Ebert points out, as you inevitably notice while watching the movie, that the plot first seems almost non-existent. It seems like a series of different episodes, and it takes a long time, almost until the end of the film, until we are sure why they are related. Not because we're dumb movie-watchers or the film is intentionally tricky, but because the film is so focused on the three main characters and their different journeys (psychologically) through the same case. The great thing about the movie is that the characters are so incredibly engaging that it doesn't matter if there is really a big exciting plot or not (to me, at least). I always am so interested in their different escapades that I just never care.
I love that the movie is a film noir, or er, as I should say, neo-noir or whatever the term is, but it's not over the top. It doesn't try to re-create that noir look or style. It's clearly set in a historical time, but it never rubs it in your face. The details are all in the background, and it's so wonderfully subtle. The dialogue doesn't try to sound like film noir either. It's just normal. Sometimes that works well (like in Brick, I guess), but I think it would have been distracting here. The focus shouldn't be on the genre in this film, but on the characters, and by not letting the genre elements of noir take center stage in the film, we never lose sight of the real point of the film.
I really don't have any more time to write, but this is such a great movie. I really recommend it if you haven't seen it yet. The actors are great it in (I was pretty young when this came out so I struggle to imagine that there was a time when Russel Crowe was considered an unknown actor, but here you go), the plot is really interesting and incredibly well-constructed, and the look and feel of it is awesome. There aren't many movies that are able to have action and still have tight psychological stories (or at least I haven't seen that many), and I love this movie for being that. Good stuff!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on L.A. Confidential
Buy it on Amazon