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l. a. seneca

L.A. Confidential (film)

L.A. Confidential is a 1997 feature film based on the 1990 crime fiction novel of the same title by James Ellroy, the third in his L.A. Quartet novel cycle. Both book and film tell the story about a group of Los Angeles police in the 1950s, and police corruption bumping up against Hollywood celebrity. The film adaptation was produced and directed by Curtis Hanson and co-written by Brian Helgeland and Hanson. At the time, both Australian actors Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce were relative unknowns in North America and one of the film's backers, Arnon Milchan was worried about the lack of movie stars in the lead roles. However, he supported Hanson's casting decisions and this gave the director the confidence to approach Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito and Kevin Spacey. When Hanson gave Spacey the script, he told him to think of Dean Martin while in the role.

Critically acclaimed, it presently holds a 99% "certified" fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes with 73 out of 74 reviews positive with an average rating of 8.5 out of 10, as well as an aggregated rating of 90 based on 28 reviews on Metacritic. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won two, Basinger for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Hanson and Helgeland for Best Screenplay - Adapted.

Plot

Set against the backdrop of the glitz, glamour, grit and noir of early 1950s Los Angeles the film revolves around three LAPD officers caught up in corruption, sex, lies, and murder following a multiple murder at the Nite Owl coffee shop. The story eventually encompasses organized crime, political corruption, heroin, pornography, prostitution, tabloid journalism, institutional racism, plastic surgery and Hollywood. The novel's title refers to the infamous 1950s scandal magazine Confidential, portrayed fictionally therein as Hush-Hush.

Officer Wendell "Bud" White (Russell Crowe) is a violent 6-foot-tall brute and the most feared man in the LAPD. His plainclothes partner Dick Stensland was convicted and expelled from the force following the Bloody Christmas scandal as a scapegoat by Chief of Detectives Thad Green; and by Exley's testimony. After these event Bud vows revenge against Exley. His ties to the Nite Owl case become personal after Stensland is found to be one of the murder victims at the Nite Owl. He has a violent obsession with woman-beaters, counterbalanced by his tenderness towards the victims. His temper often overpowers his thought. He is sought out by Capt. Dudley Smith for a black bag job intimidating out-of-town criminals trying to set up in Los Angeles after Mickey Cohen's conviction and incarceration.

Sergeant Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a slick and likable Hollywood cop who moonlights as the technical advisor of Badge of Honor, a popular Dragnet-esque television show. Vincennes is also connected with Sid Hudgeons of Hush-Hush magazine. Jack receives kickbacks for making celebrity arrests, often orchestrated, involving narcotics, that will attract even more readers to the magazine -- and more fame and profit to himself.

Sergeant Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce), the son of a legendary LAPD Inspector, is a brilliant officer in his own right, determined to outdo his father. Ed's intelligence, his education, his glasses, his insistence on following regulations, and his cold demeanor all contribute to his social isolation from other officers. He increases this resentment after volunteering to testify against other cops in an infamous police brutality case (a fictional version of the Bloody Christmas incident) early on, insisting on a promotion to Detective Lieutenant (which he receives) against the advice of Captain Dudley Smith, who felt that Exley's honesty and his reputation as a snitch would interfere with his ability to supervise detectives. He is motivated by justice, a sense of order, and his personal ambitions.

At different intervals the three men investigate the Nite Owl and concurrent events which in turn begin to reveal deep indications of corruption all around them. Ed Exley pursues absolute justice in the Nite Owl slayings, all the while trying to live up to his family's prestigious name. Bud White pursues Nite Owl victim Susan Lefferts which leads him to Lynn Bracken, a Veronica Lake look-a-like and call-girl with pivotal ties to the case he and Exley are independently investigating. Meanwhile, Jack Vincennes follows up on a pornography racket that leads to ties to both the Nite Owl and Bracken's handler Pierce Patchett, operator of "Fleur-De-Lis", a call-girl service that runs prostitutes altered by plastic surgery to look like movie stars. All three men's fate are thereby intertwined leading to a dramatic showdown with powerful and corrupt forces within the city's political leadership and the department itself.

Changes from novel to film

Helgeland and Hanson were forced to make major changes to the plot to pare the story down to feature-length. Those sections notably missing or shortened are Bud's subplot involving a serial killer who murders prostitutes; Exley's father; Inez Soto's subplot, including Exley's romantic involvement with her; and the Dieterling (Disney) subplot. Also omitted is nearly all of Vincennes's back story -- and his marriage and his alcoholism and drug abuse -- are only hinted at. Bud's partner loses his job and pension and is killed at the Nite Owl, but is not imprisoned in the film. In Exley's back story, the role of his brother is replaced with an anecdote about his father, whose murder by an unknown criminal dubbed "Rollo Tomasi", inspired his police career. Also, Exley is a medal-winning veteran of World War II from the Pacific Theater, moments of which he flashbacks to during the Bloody Christmas riot. His character is also far darker in the book; by way of example, Exley was alone when he killed the negros, and started the shooting in cold blood. In the film, William Carlisle went as a partner and fired first in response to a perceived threat. The ending of the film is significantly different: Dudley Smith's criminal activities were discovered by Exley, Vincennes and White, but he is not killed, instead he is seriously injured in the sequel White Jazz. The actual perpetrators of the Nite Owl massacre were Johnny Stompanato, Abraham Teitlebaum and Lee Vachss as shooters, and Deuce Perkins as a driver, as opposed to the film's Michael Breuning, William Carlisle and Dudley Smith as the killers.

Cast

Main
Actor Role
Guy Pearce Det. Lt. Edmund Jennings "Ed" Exley
Russell Crowe Officer Wendell "Bud" White
Kevin Spacey Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes
James Cromwell Capt. Dudley Liam Smith
Kim Basinger Lynn Bracken
David Strathairn Pierce Morehouse Patchett
Danny DeVito Sid Hudgens
Supporting
Actor Role
Graham Beckel Det. Sgt. Richard Alex "Dick" Stensland
Paul Guilfoyle Meyer Harris "Mickey" Cohen
Ron Rifkin LA Dist. Atty. Ellis Loew
Matt McCoy Brett Chase
Paolo Seganti Johnny Stompanato
Simon Baker Matt Reynolds
Darrell Sandeen Detective Leland 'Buzz' Meeks

Production

Origins

Curtis Hanson had read half a dozen of James Ellroy's books before he read L.A. Confidential and was drawn to its characters, not the plot. He said, "What hooked me on them was that, as I met them, one after the other, I didn't like them - but as I continued reading, I started to care about them." Ellroy's novel also made Hanson think about L.A. and provided him with an opportunity to "set a movie at a point in time when the whole dream of Los Angeles, from that apparently golden era of the '20s and '30s, was being bulldozed." Screenwriter Brian Helgeland was originally signed to Warner Brothers to write a Viking film with director Uli Edel and then worked on an unproduced modern-day King Arthur story. Helgeland was a long-time fan of Ellroy's novels and when he heard that Warner Bros. had acquired the rights to Confidential in 1990, he lobbied to script the film. However, at the time, the studio was only talking to well-known screenwriters. When he finally did get a meeting, it was canceled two days before it was to occur.

Helgeland found that Hanson had been hired to direct and met with him while the filmmaker was making The River Wild. They found that not only did they share a love for Ellroy's fiction but also agreed on how to adapt Confidential into a film. According to Helgeland, they had "to remove every scene from the book that didn't have the three main cops in it, and then to work from those scenes out." According to Hanson, he "wanted the audience to be challenged but at the same time I didn't want them to get lost." They worked on the script together for two years with Hanson turning down jobs and Helgeland writing seven drafts for free. The two men also got Ellroy's approval of their approach. He had seen Hanson's films, The Bedroom Window and Bad Influence and found him to be "a competent and interesting storyteller", but was not convinced that his book would be made into a film until he talked to the director. He later said, "They preserved the basic integrity of the book and its main theme...Brian and Curtis took a work of fiction that had eight plotlines, reduced those to three, and retained the dramatic force of three men working out their destiny."

Warner Bros. executive Bill Gerber showed the script to Michael Nathansan, CEO of New Regency Productions, which had a deal with the studio. Nathanson loved it but they had to get the approval from the owner of New Regency, Arnold Milchan. Hanson prepared a presentation that consisted of 15 vintage postcards and pictures of L.A. mounted on poster-boards and made his pitch to Milchan. The pictures consisted of orange groves, beaches, tract homes in the San Fernando Valley, and the opening of the Hollywood Freeway to symbolize the image of prosperity sold to the public. Then, Hanson showed the darker side of Ellroy's novel with the cover of scandal rag, Confidential and the famous shot of Robert Mitchum coming out of jail after his marijuana bust. He also had photographs of jazz musicians of the time: Zoot Sims, Gerry Mulligan, and Chet Baker to represent the music people listened to. Hanson emphasized that the period detail would be in the background and the characters in the foreground. Milchan was impressed with his presentation and agreed to finance it.

Casting

Hanson had seen Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper and found him "repulsive and scary but captivating." The actor had read Ellroy's The Black Dahlia but not L.A. Confidential and when he read the script was drawn to Bud White's "self-righteous moral crusade." Crowe fit the visual preconception of Bud. Hanson put the actor on tape doing a few scenes from the script and showed it to the film's producers who agreed to cast him as Bud. Guy Pearce auditioned like countless other actors and Hanson felt that he "was very much what I had in mind for Ed Exley." The director purposely did not watch the actor in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert afraid that it might taint his decision. Like he did with Crowe, Hanson put Pearce on tape and showed it to the producers who agreed he should be cast as Exley. Pearce did not like Exley when he first read the screenplay and remarked, "I was pretty quick to judge him and dislike him for being so self-righteous...But I liked how honest he became about himself. I knew I could grow to respect and understand him." At the time, both Australian actors were relative unknowns in North America and Milchan was worried about the lack of movie stars in the lead roles. However, he supported Hanson's casting decisions and this gave the director the confidence to approach Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito and Kevin Spacey. Hanson cast Crowe and Pearce because he wanted to "replicate my experience of the book. You don't like any of these characters at first, but the deeper you get into their story, the more you begin to sympathize with them. I didn't want actors audiences knew and already liked."

Hanson felt that the character of Jack Vincennes was "a movie star among cops" and thought of Spacey with his "movie star charisma", casting him specifically against type. The director was confident that the actor "could play the man behind that veneer, the man who also lost his soul", and when he gave him the script, he told him to think of Dean Martin while in the role. Hanson cast Basinger because he felt that she "was the character to me. What beauty today could project the glamor of Hollywood's golden age?"

Pre-production

To give his cast and crew points and counterpoints to capture L.A. in the 1950s, he held a "mini-film festival" showing one film a week that consisted of The Bad and the Beautiful because it epitomized the glamorous Hollywood look Lynn Bracken; In a Lonely Place because it showed the ugly side of Hollywood glamor; Don Siegel's The Lineup and Private Hell 36 "for their lean and efficient style"; and Kiss Me Deadly because it was "so rooted in the futuristic 50s: the atomic age." Hanson and the film's cinematographer Dante Spinotti agreed that the film would be shot widescreen and watched two Cinemascope films from the period: Douglas Sirk's The Tarnished Angels and Vincente Minnelli's Some Came Running.

Before filming took place, Hanson brought Crowe and Pearce to L.A. for two months to immerse them in the city and the time period. He also got them dialect coaches, showed them vintage police training films and had them meet real cops. Pearce found the contemporary police force had changed too much to be useful research material and disliked the police officer he rode around with because he was racist. The actor found the police films more valuable "because there was a real sort of stiffness, a woodenness about these people" that he felt Exley had as well. Crowe studied Sterling Hayden in Stanley Kubrick's crime film, The Killing "for that beefy manliness that came out of World War II." For six weeks, Crowe, Pearce, Hanson and Helgeland conducted rehearsals which consisted of them discussing each scene in the script. As other actors were cast they would join in.

Principal photography

Hanson did not want the film to be an exercise in nostalgia and had Spinotti shoot it like a contemporary film and use more naturalistic lighting than in a classic film noir. He told Spinotti and the film's production designer Jeannine Oppewall to pay great attention to period detail but to then "put it all in the background."

Music

Jerry Goldsmith's score for the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score, but lost to James Horner's score for Best Picture Titanic

Reaction

According to Hanson, Warner Brothers did not want the film screened at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival because they felt that there was an "anti-studio bias...So why go and come home a loser?" However, Hanson wanted to debut the film at a high profile, international venue like Cannes. He and other producers bypassed the studio and sent a print directly to the festival's selection committee who loved it. Ellroy saw the film and said, "I understood in 40 minutes or so that it is a work of art on its own level. It was amazing to see the physical incarnation of the characters."

Overall, the film scored very well with critics, presently sporting a 99% "certified" fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes with 73 out of 74 reviews positive. In his review for the Boston Globe, Jay Carr wrote, "Throughout, director Curtis Hanson wisely opts for narrative thrust instead of nostalgic noir flourishes - a must, given the complex narrative. Janet Maslin wrote in her review for the New York Times, "Mr. Spacey is at his insinuating best, languid and debonair, in a much more offbeat performance than this film could have drawn from a more conventional star. And the two Australian actors, tightly wound Mr. Pearce and fiery, brawny Mr. Crowe, qualify as revelations.

L.A. Confidential was voted as the best film set in Los Angeles in the last 25 years by a group of Los Angeles Times writers and editors with two criteria: "The movie had to communicate some inherent truth about the L.A. experience, and only one film per director was allowed on the list".

Awards

Won

Nominated

DVD

A Two-Disc Special Edition was released on DVD and Blu-ray on September 23, 2008 and features an audio commentary by film critic Andrew Sarris, a music only track, the following featurettes: "Whatever You Desire: Making L.A. Confidential", "Sunlight and Shadow: The Visual Style of L.A. Confidential", "A True Ensemble: The Cast of L.A. Confidential", "L.A. Confidential: From Book to Screen", "Off the Record", "Photo Pitch", "The L.A. of L.A. Confidential", and the L.A. Confidential 2000 TV Pilot.

References

Further reading

  • Dargis, Manohla (2003). L.A. Confidential (BFI Modern Classics). British Film Institute. ISBN 0-85170-944-3.

External links

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