Nothing is what it appears. Appearances are deceptive. Because perception is power. And those that control public perception are the most powerful men and women in America. That is the main theme of L.A. Confidential the film that should have beaten Titanic for Best Picture at 1998’s Oscars.
This theme of power and perception is evidenced from the first frames as tabloid writer Sid (Danny de Vito) talks about the City of Angles as if he’s narrating an infomercial. We are shown pictures of the good life, where you can become a movie star or at least meet a few, and every working man can own his own piece of land for his family because the land is cheap. Through the snickers we get the sense that we are going to learn the true story of L.A. Perception is going to meet reality.
To show us, the story follows the dealings of three detectives: Edmund Exley (the awesome Guy Pearce), Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), and Bud White (Russell Crowe). Exley is a by the books detective, Vincennes is a sleazy one who sells stories to tabloids and is a consultant for the TV show Badge of Honor (where all cops are good, all criminals are bad, and justice is always served), and Bud White serves as muscle literally beating confessions out of punk crooks and wife beaters. Together these three men’s stories will collide as they try to solve the mass murder at a coffee shop called the Nite Owl.
This film’s main strength, and what makes it a damn good movie, is that it has a clear theme and razor sharp focus. There are no wasted scenes or lines of dialogue. Everything about this film serves the purpose of it’s theme. For example, Exley is constantly taunted by other detectives about wearing glasses because real detectives don’t wear them, yet he refuses to take them off. However, when he is photographed by the papers, he takes them off, and tries to look as tough as possible. As the film goes along, we learn that powerful men will kill, kill, and kill to keep their reputations and their darkest desires a closely guarded secret. In fact, everything about the film is not what it appears, and when the final revelations start to come out, one can look back and see how they were fooled.
My only complaint is that towards the end, the film just feels rushed. This is one of those movies that could have benefitted from being longer. Maybe an extra 45 minutes. After an outstanding build up the thing just kind of ends. A spectacular and unexpected gun fight that is well shot and thrilling does sort of make up for this.
This is a minor complaint given everything that L.A. Confidential does right. While it is not a perfect film, it does get an A+ rating from me. The first A+ on my blog! See it. See it now. If you haven’t, you are in for a treat, if you have already seen it, then see it again and enjoy the ride one more time. It has been years, nearly a decade, in between viewings and I was just as on the edge of my seat as the first viewing.