Sunday, October 16, 2016

Top 61 Things I Love About L.A. Confidential (that no one talks about)

Curtis Hanson made good movies before L.A. Confidential. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and The River Wild are both effective, creepy thrillers, but his career took right the hell off when L.A. Confidential was released. The movie was, and will forever remain, one of the finest pulp L.A. throwbacks on film. It’s bursting with style and energy; a modern masterpiece, certainly. With the untimely passing of Hanson last month, I thought it’d be appropriate to explore the best film of his career. (As a reminder: I discuss the entire movie in these posts. The whole film will be spoiled, so please don’t read if you haven’t seen the film yet!)

People often complain about opening credits, and for good reason. Too long, too boring, too uninspired. But because film-related jobs are run by different unions (putting a movie together really is a contractual nightmare), opening credits are required, unless every person who would be represented in the opening credits agrees to not include them. My point is, if you have to include opening credits, what better way to do it than this? The opening 3 minutes of L.A. Confidential are as informative as they are entertaining. The entire plot(s) of the movie is packed in here. And Danny DeVito’s narration never ceases to amuse.

The way Bud White (Russell Crowe) opens his car door so quickly, before he’s even looking outside. Dude mad.

Crowe’s delivery of “Ghost of Christmas past.”

Bud giving the abused wife her husband’s wallet.

Ed Exley’s (Guy Pearce) shocked annoyance at having his picture taken.

The back-and-forth exchange of morality between Ed and his captain, Dudley (James Cromwell). It succinctly encapsulates who both men are.

The barkeep’s response to being ripped off by Bud and the LAPD: “If I ever get held up, you guys better be here.”

The speed in which Lynn (Kim Basinger) turns to face Bud.

The way Bud puts the last bottle of booze upside down in the box. Nice little touch.

Bud’s partner, Dick (Graham Beckel), laughing after he tells Bud that Buzz (Darrell Sandeen) used to be a cop. Man plays a convincing drunk.

Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) running out of the bushes. Is there ever a bad time to watch Danny DeVito running out of bushes?

Composition composition composition. Proves why cinematographer Dante Spinotti is a god.

Everything about this: Sinatra playing in the background, the sound design of the glass breaking, Kevin Spacey’s cool entrance. The man is a movie star, and this movie is a masterpiece.

One of the best parts about this movie is its ability to plant subtle seeds throughout. It’s one of those films that really benefits from multiple viewings.

Music. Music can be everything. As soon as Dick hear’s that “the Mexicans” who assaulted to cops are downstairs, the music becomes foreboding for the first time.

A lot here to love. One, it says a lot about Bud that he doesn’t give a shit about the party. He’d much rather clock in work and (presumably) write the report on the wife beater. Two, it’s nice that Jack (Spacey) knows Bud well enough to warn him what Dick is about to do. Also worth mentioning that this is the only scene (however brief) that Spacey and Crowe directly share together in the film.

Love how the respective things that set Bud and Jack off during the fight are the mention of Bud’s mother, and the tainting of Jack’s clothing. Priorities.

The way Bud takes his badge and gun off without breaking eye contact.

Ed throwing so much shade at Captain Dudley during Ed’s interrogation.

 Composition composition composition.

The way Jack hangs up on Sid while hanging up the phone.

Ed being so eager to pick up a call that he breaks a desk lamp.

Followed, brilliantly, with Pearce’s delivery of, “It’s mine.”

Ed trying to look tough for his big photo.

Simple throwaway line from one of the coroner that will prove to pay off later. Subtlety.

This is how you win an Oscar for Best Screenplay.

I love this. Bud’s simple reply of “…Councilman,” let’s us know that Bud knows who this shitbird is. He’s got more sway than he thinks, that Bud White.

This push-in shot of Lynn. It has such an old school Hollywood vibe to it.

The way this guy waves off who to point out on the list. “He’s bad, so I’ll just tell you.”

Jack reminding Lenny to keep his left up the next time he fights.

Ed finally taking control of a situation.

Bud breaking the top off the fucking chair. I know people talk about this a lot, but damn, what emotional and physical command Crowe had over this character.

I’ve always wondered if Bud actually had a round in his gun, or if he was bluffing. Dude pulls the trigger three times. That’s some bold shit.

Bud’s mortified face when he finds the abused girl.

The cops running into the house after they hear Bud’s shots. I love that we never leave the house; it’s all from Bud’s POV.

This expert push-in shot. Dante Spinotti, I’m telling you.

Everything about this sequence is masterful. The small detail of Ed in pain over blood getting in his eyes (it hurts more than you’d think), the framing of that second shot, Ed running down the hallway, barely making it, the gun going off, Ed’s face after... just great.

All it took for “Shotgun” Ed to be accepted was to kill a few guys society didn’t give a shit about.

The callback to the councilmen. What goes around…

How the color palette reflects the coldness of the majority of Lynn’s house, against the warmth of her personal room. That’s expert cinematography.

Jack getting embarrassed that Sid (Danny DeVito) invites Matt (Simon Baker) over. (And the way Matt doesn’t remember Jack).

Love this line.

Bud watching Lynn watch Roman Holiday.

I love moments like this in movies. Why does Jack decide to grow a conscience right now? Who knows. He just does. There’s no monologue explaining it, only a quick glance at himself in the mirror. He just does, and that’s life.

Jack’s empathy upon discovering a slain Matt.

I love how quickly Bud offers up insight of his troubled past to Lynn. He’s really going all in with her, and she him.

The way this lab tech says, “He probably tried to do something,” in regards to Bud’s dead partner.

This is my favorite scene in the film. It’s Jack and Ed as we’ve never seen them. Jack is pissed off about Matt’s murder, and Ed is genuinely vulnerable. The two meet in the middle of their differences and find common ground. The way Jack gets emotional over Ed’s story about his father’s murder is so moving. (Read more of my thoughts on this scene here.)

Jack and Ed sharing a laugh after the Lana Turner incident.

The way the sound design turns ominous when the film’s real villain is revealed. And whatta creepy line.

The subtle shifting of Ed’s face when Dudley mentions Rollo Tomasi. THAT is acting.

Great line.

The way Lynn gently holds her face after Bud smacks her. So often in movies we see characters take punches like they’re no big deal. But getting rocked in the face hurts.

Bud realizing Ed is right about the conspiracy, so instead of continuing to beat Ed, he tosses a chair through the window in frustration.

The D.A. (Ron Rifkin) whimpering on the ground after Bud beats him.

Composition composition composition.

The efficiency in which Ed tosses a set of keys to Bud.

The lighting during the shootout. Absolutely superb.

Bud moving toward Dudley even as Dudley shoots him.

Jerry Goldsmith’s bombastic music cue when we realize Bud is still alive.

Ed and Bud’s final exchange together. “…yeah.” What else needs to be said?


  1. Ah, a film I hope to re-watch soon as Curtis Hanson will be sorely missed. You forgot one more excellent film he made in the 1990s before this on. Bad Influence w/ Rob Lowe and James Spader. Very underrated film.

    1. I've never seen it! But with your recommendation, I'll be sure to check it out asap.

  2. Awesome job, Alex. Have you read the book by James Ellroy? It's fascinating to see how Brian Helgeland and Hanson took such an epic book and maintained the feel yet still removed so much of it. One of the great book-to-film adaptations that I've ever seen. Just brilliant.

    1. Thanks, Dan! Nope, haven't read the book yet, which is a shame. I heard it spans several years, right? I'd love to give that a read. Will have to very soon.

    2. It actually spans multiple decades from what I remember. It's a long book, but it flies along. I'd highly recommend it.

    3. Thanks! That'll be my next book for sure.

  3. Awesome stuff. Going through this list gets me thinking of the scenes in the film. Makes me want to re watch it again.

    1. That's great to hear. I've found there really is never a bad time to watch this movie. So, so good.

  4. YASSSSSS!!!

    Crowe's performance here is practically a 'how to' on 'HOW TO BE AMAZING' because it is, in a word, perfect. The layers he gives Bud in amazing, and the way be LIVES this performance is so raw and uncanny. How he missed the Oscar nod is just beyond me. He wipes the floor with everyone else that year, in any category.

    And I agree with Dan on the screenplay adaptation because the book is so complex and involved and yet there is nothing truly lost in this film, despite the necessary trims.

    1. Aside from The Insider, this is my favorite Crowe performance. I think the Academy knew they fucked up well in good in ignoring the three male leads. But oh welllll. And I definitely want to check out the book as soon as I can. Been meaning to get to it for years.

  5. Holy hell is this post magnificent. This makes me want to re-watch this movie immediately...I think I've only seen it once, and it's been quite a while :)

    1. Thanks Courtney! This flick gets so much better with repeat viewings. Hanson packed so many hidden clues into it that pay off late in the game. Love love love it.

  6. One of my all time favorite movies. Reading this made me realize that it's been way too long since i last watched it though. Might need to find time to sit down and watch it again soon.

    1. It's so damn good, right? I try to watch it at least once a year. A real gem.

  7. Awesome post! The entire cast is so good here and I remember how surprised I was when it was revealed who the real villain was

    1. Thanks! I was soooo surprised when he turned around and popped Spacey. It's a real shock. Movies don't do as good of a job at doing that anymore, by and large. Investing in characters so carefully, then revealing something so shocking.

  8. I watched this film with my parents when I was way too young, so I don’t remember it as well as I’d like to. Looking at your post I feel like I need to watch it asap. The things I remember from it are that I loved Guy Pearce’s performance, Russell Crowe’s character with all its flaws and Kim Basinger channeling Veronica Lake. I love Lake’s style. I didn’t even remember until now Kevin Spacey was in this! I guess at that time I didn’t know much about him. The first film where I remember loving Spacey was in The Usual Suspects, which I’ve rewatched through the years.

    Loved that line you’ve chosen about “midnight” and the photography is gorgeous. That color palette contrast at Lynn’s house is amazing. And the credits are quite good too. I actually love credits when they’re well done and not too long. They give you a feeling of introduction to the film. Right now, the first opening credits that come to mind, which I loved, are the ones from Drive, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lost in Translation and Lost Highway. The last one mostly for that magical David Bowie song. And from television, I loved the intro for season one of True Detective. Just by watching the credits I was hooked. Same with Bron/Broen. Specially the ones on season one and three, can’t get Hollow Talk out of my head while watching the series.

    1. I love all of those opening credit sequences you mentioned. I think I made a list about my favorites a while ago. Taxi Driver will always be my favorite (mainly for the music, which seems to be a huge reason for your picks as well). But Enter the Void is simply on another level.

  9. Great movie. Awesome insights too! If you aren't too busy this weekend, they're actually screening LA Confidential at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica and you can check it out theatrically as well. 35mm print too. I've seen it on the big screen and the cinematography just pops and really adds to the whole experience of the film.

    1. Thanks for the link! I saw that they were showing it, which is awesome. I actually saw it in the theater when it was first released way back when.

  10. I was looking for a blog post online on L.A. Confidential...

    I was not disappointed. You virtually pointed out everything I love about the film. Particularly like that you mentioned the subtle shifting of Exley's face at 'Rollo Tomasi', and that little scene between Matt and Jack. Just wondering, what do you think of Simon Baker in this? I was re-watching this the other night and he actually does so much in so little time. He captures that particular nerviness and desperation of the aspiring actor forced to stoop so low, and makes his exit so damn heartbreaking; capped off, of course, by Mr Spacey's heartbreaking reaction shot.

    1. Thanks! I know I didn't talk about Baker much here, but I agree that his work is very good in the film. The way he nervously approaches Jack in that scene is so real. "He captures that particular nerviness and desperation of the aspiring actor forced to stoop so low..." couldn't have said it better.