I would say I am a sucker for anything considered a period piece and set in the American 30s, 40’s and 50’s. There’s just something cool and almost mythical about the way people dressed, spoke and lived. Technology was nothing compared to what we have today but certain things like a radio and TV in every living room were the “hi-tech” and coveted items of that day and age. L.A. Confidential was a film I had been meaning to see but never got around to seeing it before now. I’m a big Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce fan so this seemed like a one, two punch of talented Aussie acting horsepower. I did like the film and would say it was entertaining but I wasn’t floored by it.
L.A. Confidential (the film adaptation of James Ellroy‘s novel of the same name) is about the resulting police investigation of a murdered mob boss and his associates in 1950’s era Los Angeles. As the investigation progresses, more leads and clues are uncovered though most turn out to be half true at best. More and more evidence is uncovered leading to a dirty and complex trail of drugs, corruption, and murder. This very involving story follows Guy Pearce as an honest cop trying to make a name for himself by weeding through the layers of unethical police practices, dirty politics and things that have been “swept under the rug”. Trying to do his late (police detective) father proud, Pearce’s resenting opinion of the officers who “play ball” soon gets him ostracized in the department. Yet despite his best moral intentions, his attitude only gets him so far before he learns that in order to do his job effectively he has to blur the lines of right and wrong to find the justice he’s seeking.
I’m just going to say right out that Guy Pearce was incredible playing Ed Exley. He was so coy yet determined playing his role as a “Dudley Do Right” in the beginning and as the film progressed, he showed his teeth and evolved into a very tough and gritty cop by the end. I still think his best work was in Memento but this was nearly as impressive. Pearce has this very unassuming presence he beings to his acting roles. It’s almost like you can tell that he’s capable of breaking out of the confines of his character and displaying truly great acting but for some reason he’s holding back just a little. Maybe it’s just me but I saw some genius in his mannerisms and really wanted to see him command the role more but my guess is that Exley’s character wasn’t written for him to do that so he refrained. Now Russell Crowe on the other hand was equally incredible and showed that power I guess I was looking for. He didn’t display the same wild ferocity he had in Romper Stomper but some of those fight scenes looked as if he was “Maximus” not “Bud White”. One true test of an actor’s abilities is how you can do more without words than with them. There is a scene at the end where Pearce and Crowe basically have a whole conversation with just looks. The whole thing is spelled out just by the looks in their eyes…wow! Finally, I have to throw some credit to Kevin Spacey (who I am liking more and more) for his attempts to channel Dean Martin. His performance as the likable Jack Vincennes was a compliment to Pearce’s ‘by the book‘ cop and Crowe’s ‘hit a suspect with that book‘ cop, therefore becoming a great third leg to this film’s trio of talent.
Despite my praise for the actors above, I don’t think this movie was all that great. The acting from the rest of the supporting cast was fine, but what lost me around the halfway mark was that the plot was a little too complex for what they were tying to achieve. Now I like a good “cop mystery” as much as the next guy and though this film was an involving noir type of movie, I thought it could have had the same effect if it was 20 minutes shorter and a few characters lighter. I just believe that this movie tried to do too much and have too many twists (or red herrings).
Now this is probably my personal experience speaking here but I find that any story set close to this time period (Chinatown, Changeling, The Black Dahlia) seems to have a very complex and intricate plot that without proper exposition, it is very easy to lose track of the film’s direction. As I watched it, and maybe I wasn’t in the right mindset, I wasn’t ready for the mulit-character/multi-plot near epic that this film turned out to be. Though, that does tend to happen when a film is adapted from a novel. And since James Ellroy also wrote The Black Dahlia, that seems fitting. Novels can have as much content as the writer feels necessary and they’re not held to the same constraints as a screenplay. Trying to fit that all into an entertaining and cohesive film can prove to be difficult and the results are either too cramped or greatly diluted and lacking.
Even though I just adore the look and feel of this film and others like it, something about these types of “period noir/who dun it?” films either grab me or they don’t. Whether it’s the plot, pacing or the some other factor I have trouble staying interested past a certain point…kind of like some Westerns. I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I wasn’t wild about the film as a whole, I did like certain parts, specifically Pearce and Crowe. Their individual efforts were great but still not enough to make me love the movie so I’m split on what grade to give it. Maybe I’ll watch it again but here’s the real dilemma: I like certain parts of L.A Confidential but I am not certain the parts are enough to get me to watch it again to re-evaluate the whole.
G-S-T Seal of Approval: PENDING