The Noirvember Files: L.A. Confidential
The terms “ I can’t speak too highly of it” isn’t something to use lightly, but in summarizing my feelings to the late Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential, there’s nothing more fitting. The contemporary modifications are peripheral bonus features that don’t make or break the final product, but boost it from a nostalgic throwback to a wholly dedicated genre film. L.A. Confidential is a product of great direction, set design, sound editing, and all the technical merits one can muster, but this is a film that starts with its actors. If I were to say this movie is perfectly cast I don’t think that even the most egregious contrarian could say otherwise.
Everything from the tough but nebbish Guy Pearce, and his inverse tough guy par excellence a then newcomer Crowe (who rumored to have gotten the part thanks to his performance in Romper Stomper) lead the film and stalwart character players provide the foundation. Our sounding board, the hypnotically grizzled timbre of Danny Devito, whose Hush Hush narration could be a lesson in itself if you want to learn about effective exposition. The brilliant (but underutilized) David Strathairn as the foppish asexual, high-class pimp, if classic cinema has taught us anything, never trust the slender moustached man. We have John Sayles to thank for Strathairn, and his subsequent performances to sustain his legacy this is one of his best. Ron Rifkin is ideally suited as the weasley DA; Graham Beckel embodies those types of cops we can’t wish away Dick Stensland, out of shape, drunk, and probably racist, like Captain Dudley Smith says “he's a disgrace". Speaking of the Captain who might be my favorite character in the film, there’s James Cromwell, who might be my favorite performance in the movie, I’m not sure if it’s the way he nails that first (or second) generation Irish immigrant accent, that gaunt, lengthy fatherly demeanor. James Cromwell is doing some of his best work. Has Kevin Spacey ever had a “weak” role? I don’t think so, and his "Hollywood Cop" Jack Vincennes is politically canny and cooler than thou who plays him smart, but not too smart.
And of course no film noir is complete without its femme fatale, but contemporary mores dictate that a powerful female role is more than just seducing men but being a woman of power, and Kim Basinger's meta-reflexive bombshell blonde, after all, she’s Veronica Lake, right? What could have been a cheap callback is a woefully centrifugal story beat that gave Bassinger carte blanche to earn a very deserved Oscar win.Is it a great cast? No, it’s a perfect one. Curtis Hanson is the kind of director we could sadly use more of, smart, technical eye for style, ear for dialogue and a honed sense of pacing because L.A. Confidential is one of the best looking, well written wonderfully acted and briskly paced movies of its kind.