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Los Angeles in the early 50s. Unrelenting sunshine, alluring glamour, easy money and a burgeoning industry called Hollywood. The entire country is transfixed by the seductive images coming from the City of Angles. But beneath the gleaming surface lies a corrupt soul. The energy and growth of post-war America is a combustible mix that's bound to explode.
For more about L.A. Confidential and the L.A. Confidential Blu-ray release, see L.A. Confidential Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on June 29, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, David Strathairn
Director: Curtis Hanson
» See full cast & crew
L.A. Confidential Blu-ray Review
Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, June 29, 2009
While teenage girls began to weep when Titanic's Jack Dawson slid beneath the icy waves, I began to weep when it was declared Best Picture at the 70th Academy Awards, handily leaving four more satisfying films -- As Good As It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting and, of course, director Curtis Hanson's pulpy tale of cops, corruption, and celebrity, L.A. Confidential -- gasping for air in its wake. Now I don't claim to understand what goes through an Academy voter's head when making their final selection, and I don't like to definitively declare one Oscar-nominated film's value over another, but, in this case, I have to cry foul. Everything about Hanson's golden era Hollywood epic, from its searing screenplay to its pitch-perfect performances to its sweltering cinematography, makes Titanic look superficial and inadequate. As a sprawling ensemble piece, it's a masterwork; as a tri-pronged character study, it's a stunning achievement; as a period film, it's a mesmerizing glimpse into the dark depths of a seemingly idyllic decade. Make no mistake, L.A. Confidential is one of the finest films of all time.
Based on author James Ellroy's densely plotted novel of the same name, L.A. Confidential follows the mingling investigations of three LAPD officers -- Bud White (Russell Crowe), a hot-tempered block of muscle loyal to his smooth-talking superiors; Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce), a self-assured upstart whose strict adherence to procedure invites the barbed scorn of his colleagues; and Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), a smarmy detective moonlighting as a consultant for a hit television show -- who begin to suspect a multiple-murder at the Nite Owl coffee shop may be connected to corruption in the department, a pornography racket, a prostitution ring, and other various illegal activities. While Vincennes initially resists digging into the matter and Whites seems oblivious to the interconnectivity of it all, Exley forges ahead, exposing wrong-doing in the department, taking the lead on key interrogations, and deftly closing the Nite Owl case. Or so he thinks. Before long, Exley uncovers more evidence that suggests the murders may not have been so cut and dry.
And that's just the central storyline. Danny DeVito plays a fast-talking, Hollywood tabloid reporter named Sid Hudgens who pays Vincennes to orchestrate celebrity arrests. Kim Basinger earned a supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal of a soft-skinned prostitute who gets involved with White and Exley. James Cromwell delivers a deliciously devilish turn as a police captain who may or may not be on the side of the angels. David Strathairn disappears behind the slick-mustached threats of Pierce Patchett, a high-dollar pimp who has his girls surgically altered to resemble famous starlets. And character actor Ron Rifkin steps into the shifty shoes of a sanctimonious District Attorney who knows far more than he claims, sneering down the bridge of his self-serving nose one moment and squealing for his life the next. By the time the credits roll, blood has been spilled, coffins have been filled (with the most unexpected residents), and everyone who has survived is left with little choice but to continue doing so.
Despite an endless assortment of characters and subplots, Brian Helgeland's screenplay is so flawlessly crafted, so precise in its every plot development and line of dialogue, that it's easy to forget how complex the story actually is. Vincennes, White, and Exley's encounters never feel scripted or contrived; their distaste for one another is palpable and their hesitance to trust one another is convincing. In reality, they're all good cops... all good men struggling to navigate a department packed with thieves and killers. To that end, Spacey, Crowe, and Pearce balance slow-boiling rage with investigative prowess, effortlessly transcending their roles as written to fully inhabit their officers of the law. Each actor is forced to face his character's demons -- apathy, volatility, and arrogance, respectively -- and each one exudes varying degrees of weakness and fear anytime their conviction or commitment is called into question. Granted, both Helgeland and the actors take extreme liberties with Ellroy's original novel, but as far as I'm concerned, it's to the benefit of the film. While Ellroy often expunges ethos in favor of exposition and atmosphere, Helgeland and the actors tend to revel in the subtleties of their characters, pulling back the curtain of each man's soul and exploring the dank underworld just beneath the surface.
It helps that Hanson and director of photography Dante Spinotti rarely toil in the genre conventions of yesteryear, creating a more realistic rendition of 1950s Los Angeles than lesser filmmakers might have offered. Don't get me wrong, they still rely on heavy shadows and soft light to capture the spirit of the age, but they spend little time reproducing the look and feel of traditional crime noir, aiming for period authenticity instead. The camera doesn't follow the actors through a set, it proceeds their arrival, anticipating their thoughts and reactions before they have them. The effect, combined with Spacey, Crowe, and Pearce's performances, is so potent that you can practically read each character's mind, piecing together information and discovering answers as if you were personally involved in the investigation. Gut punches land with legitimate impact, revelations are a shock to the system, and twists and turns are as devastating as they are justifiable. More to the point, the film doesn't feel like a film. In spite of the narration, the rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, and the chess-like arrangement of the characters, L.A. Confidential is all too believable. As it stands, I wouldn't blame anyone for thinking it was based on a true story. After watching it for the first time, I had to hit the internet to find out how much of Ellroy's tale was pulled from actual events.
Reviewing a film I adore is always more difficult than eviscerating a film I hate. The words that materialize on my screen never seem to do justice to the material at hand, and I'm often left with the nagging feeling that I've failed to successfully express everything that makes an ensemble period piece like this one such a timeless classic. In short, nothing I've written could possibly convey the genius, excellence, and sheer grandeur of Hanson and Helgeland's Oscar-nominated masterpiece. If you've never had the opportunity to dig through this engrossing Academy standout, be sure to track down a copy and devote an evening to traversing the streets of L.A. Confidential. It's well worth your time.
L.A. Confidential Blu-ray, Video Quality
At first glance, L.A. Confidential features an underwhelming 1080p/VC-1 transfer that doesn't offer the sharpness or clarity of other notable catalog releases. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that Warner's presentation pays a tremendous amount of respect to Hanson and Spinotti's intentions, relying on lifelike textures, savory shadows, and convincing depth to craft a decidedly satisfying experience. After a less-than-thrilling series of opening shots (that left my brow furrowed and my pen scribbling across my notepad), Hanson's Los Angeles heats up the screen, offering perfectly saturated skintones in place of hyper-realistic faces, and comfortable contrast in place of stark vibrancy. Blacks are wonderfully resolved, colors are warm and inviting, and vivid primaries (particularly reds) pop with the urgency of a more aggressive palette. Detail isn't mind-blowing, but it is engrossing -- edges are nicely defined (without the use of any overzealous artificial sharpening) and delineation is revealing.
Compared to the previously released standard DVDs, the Blu-ray edition is an absolute godsend, deftly trouncing everything that has come before with filmic grace and technical proficiency. Some brief artifacting and banding appear in a handful of chaotic shots, but they're fairly negligible in light of the transfer's overall quality. Ultimately, I doubt many viewers will be disappointed by L.A. Confidential's high definition presentation. Once you adjust any unreasonably lofty expectations you might have, you'll find it's quite easy to sink in and enjoy Warner's faithfulness and Hanson's intentions.
L.A. Confidential Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Warner's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track is just as rewarding, injecting crystal clear dialogue, lively LFE support, and increasingly impressive dynamics into an already immersive soundfield to create a memorable sonic experience. Regardless of whether a scene is filled with Pearce's quippy banter, Crowe's rugged throatiness, or Spacey's brisk syllables, the studio's lossless mix perfectly prioritizes each one, even amidst the most chaotic shootouts. Gunfire is blessed with jarring savagery, splintering wood explodes across the floor, and the roar of car engines is hearty and menacing. And while rear speaker activity is generally restrained, it storms the room anytime it's called upon: an open-window interrogation is invigorating, a third act gunfight surrounds the listener with a squad of advancing assassins, and the precinct is populated with clacking typewriters, shouting prisoners, and disgruntled police officers. Moreover, interior acoustics are dead on, directionality is accurate, and pans are silky smooth. If I have any nitpick, it's that Jerry Goldsmith's score is overpowering at times, overwhelming the on-screen action and reducing important ambient effects to mere bit players in the soundscape. Still, it's a minor gripe, especially considering how integral Goldsmith's music is to the film.
As it stands, I was thoroughly pleased with L.A. Confidential's lossless audio track. So pleased that I nearly bumped its score up another half point. Fans will be thrilled with the TrueHD upgrade, newcomers will nod their heads in approval, and audiophiles will find their list of complaints is much shorter than usual. Well done, Warner.
L.A. Confidential Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The 2-disc Blu-ray edition of L.A. Confidential contains the same bountiful supplemental package that appears on Warner's concurrently released 3-disc SE DVD. I am a bit disappointed that the video content is presented in standard definition, but it's tough to complain where there are so many high-quality features on tap.
L.A. Confidential Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
There's little more I can say about L.A. Confidential without slipping into superfluous praise. Suffice to say, it should have taken home the 1997 Best Picture statue. No contest. To my relief, Warner's Blu-ray edition is one of the better catalog discs I've reviewed. It sports an exceedingly faithful video transfer, a powerful TrueHD audio track, and a healthy collection of supplemental materials. If you've never seen L.A. Confidential, don't waste any more time... head for Amazon immediately. If you've been waiting for our review to pick up its Blu-ray debut, you should already be dashing for your shopping cart. You won't be disappointed.
L.A. Confidential: Other Editions
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