L.A. Confidential based on the novel by James Ellroy, and directed by Curtis Hanson is a breath of fresh air to the modern genre of film noir-esque movies. The film stars Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe as two cops on very different career paths. Pearce plays Ed Exley, who is very ambitious and will do anything to further his status in the department. Crowe plays Bud White, a cop with serious anger issues that stem from childhood violence towards himself, but primarily his mother. During the first half of the film, the two seem to be rivals, but in the second half, they come together to solve the crime. Interestingly enough, the screenwriter of the film cleverly structures a reversal of roles. In the first act, we find ourselves rooting for the LAPD and Captain Dudley Smith, played by James Cromwell. However, as the story progresses, we find that the department is not as perfect as portrayed on the ficticious television show, Honor of the Badge. In the second act, we discover that police officers within the department are actually working to replace the criminals who they put behind bars.
The film is not your average modern-day noir due its breaking of the conventions of the genre. One typical storyline found in classic noir is that the police figure is the protagonist, and the criminal is the antagonist. However, in L.A. Confidential, the line is blurred where some police officers are in fact the antagonists. Instead of the entire police force working together to solve the crime, L.A. Confidential presents a variety of police members on opposite sides of the law, and the film has the audience guessing who is good and who is bad.
Another popular aspect of classic noir is the use of clichés. Usually in these movies you find a beautiful woman seeking help from the police or another male figure. In L.A. Confidential, Bud White finds Lynn Bracken, played by Kim Basinger, a high-end call girl, cut to look like Veronica Lake. She is in desperate need of help to get out of her lifestyle but doesn’t know it. In the conclusion of the movie, Bud White successfully helps her escape from prostitution; however, it was his own personal drive that freed her. Bracken did not, as found in your normal classic noir, come to White and present the problem, nor was it the main string of conflict for the film.
Most classic noir movies have a lot of subtext in the dialogue. Movies in general tend to have a structure of dialogue that flows and carefully reveals more about character motivation, etc. What makes L.A. Confidential different than classic noir, and many other films, is its use of concise dialogue between characters. For example, someone asks, “You have any proof?” and the reply is, “The proof got his throat slit.” This is not to say that the dialogue in the film is not as thought out or that it does not present a clever way of surprising the audience when revealing new information. It could even be argued that the movie is cleverer with its dark dialogue and so even more intriguing than your average thriller.
Another aspect in which L.A. Confidential is different than classic film noir that is easily over looked is the voiceover; which helps explain the plot and themes to the audience. In classic noir it is often the protagonist or the sidekick who is now documenting the story or retelling it. However, it usually is not an omniscient voice that of a lesser character speaking directly to the audience. However, in L.A. Confidential, Sid Hudgens, played by Danny DeVito, is a writer for Hush Hush magazine which discusses all kinds of news, the kind that isn’t so flattering, and people would prefer not to have in the papers. He begins the movie, in a voice over, discussing how the LAPD is not as great as it appears to be on the television show Badge of Honor. His statement sets up the rest of the film for the audience. We immediately understand that the point the plot is to compare and contrast two like things; which is repeated over and over again in the film. We compare the real LAPD to the fictitious police department in the show, and characters, Bud White to Ed Exley.
One final notable difference between classic noir and L.A. Confidential is the use of an ensemble cast. The film noir of the past was and remains to be famous for using stars as the three big roles; the hero, the damsel, and the villain. However, as seen in this movie there are many characters which work seamlessly together; even stars such as Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce act alongside one another. The ensemble cast works so well together, because this is a modern-day noir with a big budget and in which aims to satisfy a modern audience with a flavor of the past.
There are many elements that make L.A. Confidential a unique movie experience among all the films of this genre. The audience experiences a roller coaster of emotions as the characters change before our eyes and discover who the villain is or is not. The cliché roles are not cliché, but original and the characters are fresh with different backgrounds. Lastly, the dialog is particularly clever and alludes to something more, by being direct and deliberately dark. Overall, L.A. Confidential explores how to break the conventions of film noir in a tactful way in order to satisfy a modern day audience.
I saw this film several years ago, but struggled to understand what was going on. I understood the overall plot, but did not have the time to really sink my teeth into it. However, as I viewed it this semester, I was able to really focus on the plot, motivations, subplots, and relationships with each of the characters.
What I found most interesting was the reversal… How we begin to root for one character and not liking another, and then in the end everything is backwards and upside down. Also, I think the film is very realistic in the way that every character is not clear cut, good or bad, but the good are muddied with the stains of their mistakes and/or short comings. While the bad, pretend to be good. For example: Capt. Dudley Smith in the beginning advocates that you should protect your partner and in extension the department. I don’t completely agree with the sentiment, but do understand that his message is have some loyalty to your coworkers, your team, your brothers.
For me, this motivation made me root for the Capt. and distance myself from Ed Exley, I saw him as someone who was career driven and would not have a second thought before stepping on or over someone else to further himself. Again, for me, characters like this make me a little irritated, and I immediately don’t like them, and in result don’t root for them. But, as another audience member discussed with me, they liked that driven attitude, and immediately rooted for him, above all other characters; while rooting against Capt. Smith because of his flawed moral code.
I am very glad I had another chance to view this film, and see the intimate complexities of this modern-day noir film.