L.A. Confidential (1997)
Director: Curtis Hanson
Based on a novel by: James Ellroy
Age: 12 and over. References to prostitution, drugs and porn but your kids are online, right?
In-laws, relative suitability: Should be fine with it but at 2.5 hours running time, fidgety and easily distracted people are out.
Audience: low, middle, high brow which is why this is one of the best films Hollywood has made in the last forty years.
Holiday sobriety meter: sober to tipsy. This isn't The Third Man, but you need to be able to pay attention.
Christmas spirit: not so much
I prefer films set around the Xmas season to straight Xmas movies. L.A. Confidential, based on James Ellroy's neo-noir novel is so carefully plotted and brilliantly executed, it is the sort of film I watch mesmerised whilst feeling a burning pit in the depths of my stomach because I didn't come up with the story. In my mind, when I write books and make movies, they're like L.A. Confidential, intelligent (especially for an American movie), stylish, captivating, and entertaining.
I'm a bit tongue-tied when talking about L.A. Confidential: great plot twists, great characterization, great atmosphere... so I turned to Roger Ebert's review and despite him giving the film the maximum four stars, I don't find his review particularly more illuminating than my open-mouthed awed.
I can't tell you what it's not. In L.A. Confidential, the plot resolved through raw intelligence. Only someone who has tried to write a mystery before can tell you how difficult it is to achieve this without making the "mystery" too simple or without having "off camera" information the investigator only reveals at the end. Or, the solution is so ridiculously convoluted and obtuse, only a pure genius would figure it out. Our Confidential hero, officer Edmund J. Exley, is just very smart and Ellroy conceived of a crime entanglement that's just good enough for his hero to almost fail to resolve.
The film attracted some of the best actors at the time, Crowe, Spacey, Cromwell, Strathairn, Rifkin probably because every part is written as though the character has a whole life, not just a half-life for a few scenes supporting a plot. The film gave Crowe and Basinger a lot of attention. I'm weak in the knees for Guy Pearce as Edmund J. Exley. I always was one for the incorruptible man. What makes his character perfect is that Exley is so intense, if you saw him walking towards you on the street, you'd cross for fear he'd start telling you Jesus Christ is your Lord and saviour. You know, the kind of character who is spellbounding onscreen and who you think about afterwards but the kind of person you definitely wouldn't want in your kitchen.
Aside: Prostitution, pornography, racism, political corruption, L.A. Confidential is as American as apple pie.
I hope I've inspired you to watch or re-watch L.A. Confidential, my first movie of the Christmas season 2011.
14 minutes ago