RogerBW's Blog

L.A. Confidential 13 June 2022

1997 police/crime drama, dir. Curtis Hanson, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce: IMDb / allmovie. In 1950s Los Angeles, even the straight cops are bent.

For me this is another of those films that's noir-adjacent without quite being noir: yes, there are mean streets, but the men who walk down them are themselves mean. The closest we get to good guys are Bud, who goes after abusers of women with more vigour than the law requires (or indeed allows), but is happy to join the extralegal goon squad and indeed does a bit of abusing of his own; and Ed, who's certainly meant to be a straight arrow most of the time, but has a practical grasp on politics and a willingness to compromise that simply aren't consistent with the image he projects of a man willing to let the world burn rather than let the truth be buried.

Both of these roles are played by actors who were relatively unknown in Hollywood: Russell Crowe had been seen, if at all, in Romper Stomper, about neo-Nazis in suburban Melbourne, while Guy Pearce had been in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. For that reason, the producers wanted better-known names: Kevin Spacey plays well as the slimy cop who sees the light, Kim Basinger is mostly there to be a hooker with a heart of gold, and Danny de Vito gets away from his stereotyped "mobster" and "funny guy" roles with a very effective portrayal of an unpleasant person who nonetheless is useful and even sometimes amusing.

There are an awful lot of broken people here.

There's an interesting twist towards the end in which not just the narrative tone but the film's visual grammar switches from crime drama into Western: as the surviving good guys pull up at the motel for the meet that's obviously a trap, all the pretence of civilisation has been stripped off and all that matters is how tough you are. (This is a narrative that all too many people clearly want to believe in.) In retrospect much of the narrative seems to lead up to that: all the points of friction between the good guys (including "you slept with my girl") are gradually erased by them being Manly at each other.

This film was universally loved; if it hadn't been for Titanic it would probably have done even better than it did. But it strikes me as a very male film: it's not just that it's homosocial (inevitably, because almost everyone we meet is male), it's that the women are basically victims or prizes, never friends or partners, and I think it's that that prevents me from entirely enjoying it.

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

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Tags: film reviews

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