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From Under A Rock: L.A. Confidential

May 6, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: L.A. Confidential  


At this point in our column, not everything we pick is a deep-rooted personal favorite. We’ve gotten a good deal of those out of the way, but that allows us to go out of our way to rewatch movies we remember liking a long time ago but haven’t seen them in a recent-enough timeframe to have a real opinion on it. This week is a great example of that happening and paying dividends for us as viewers.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron chose Memento. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock to show him L.A. Confidential.

L.A. Confidential
Released: September 19th, 1997
Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Story by: James Ellroy
Guy Pearce as Edmund J. Exley
Russell Crowe as Wendell “Bud” White
Kim Basinger as Lynn Bracken
Kevin Spacey as Jack Vincennes
James Cromwell as Dudley Liam Smith

Michael Ornelas: To be totally honest, I didn’t remember this movie very well, but I picked it because I had technically seen it (over 10 years ago) and because Ken Wood brought it up a couple weeks ago, so I figured “Why not?”

Aaron Hubbard: I’m so mad I haven’t seen this before because this was 110% up my alley. I’m very glad you went with Ken Wood’s pick.
The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend (Even if He’s My Enemy)
Michael: I was riveted by the third act of this movie. It wasn’t a typical mystery where you learn the big twist and then that’s the ending. This one gave it to us just before act three started and it allowed for a captivating cat-and-mouse game between Exley and Dudley. The most key point of this game was whose side Bud was on. Bud was a good guy (very loosely speaking), but blurred the lines of morality and was a loose cannon. Hell, the very scene where Exley gets him on his side starts by Bud beating the ever-loving shit out of him. He got him to see the truth and that he was a pawn in Dudley’s game of corruption and crime, and together, they wanted to make him pay for it.

Aaron: That scene is so brilliantly played, because it’s a surprise that they can get along, but it also makes perfect sense for them. In spite of their differences, they are both dedicated cops. I already really liked this movie before this team up, but seeing them work together was just fantastic stuff. I also really like how Exley’s morality shifts a bit at the end, as he realizes he has to play the game and work within the system to change it.

Michael: Which was one of Bud’s criticisms of Exley from the start. It’s interesting that he falls into that mold to work with the guy.
Characterization Through Action
Aaron: While L.A. Confidential is much more of a talking movie than an action movie, it’s rarely ever resting and reflecting on issues. Characters are always doing things, the plot moves along at a brisk pace. There isn’t a lot of character exposition; characters just do things and we learn about them that way. Bud White’s first scene shows his obsession with taking down wife beaters, and much later on we learn the specific reason why. What’s great here is that when he does hit Lynn, there’s no tacky line about him “becoming his father” or anything like that. We know the significance of it, and the actors play it off so well. By the end, it feels like the characters are dictating the script more than the script is dictating them. And that’s almost always the sign of a world with characters that are worth spending time with.

Michael: It’s really brilliant. And when the movie does get expository, it’s never just telling the audience something that everyone in the scene knows — it’s letting another character in on the information as well so there’s an actual reason to say those things. And when there’s a scene that totally relies on a character telling his scene partner a whole lot of exposition, it ends up being a twist as we see Dudley shoot Jack for it. This script knows exactly what it’s doing and how the audience is following along and uses that knowledge to stay one step ahead at all times.

Aaron: I really dug how this film was constructed. It’s complex but never confusing, which makes it an enjoyable film. There were one or two moments where something felt a little forced (Exley having sex with Lynn felt like it was missing… something), but on the whole, it’s a great yarn. Other films could learn from this one.
The Hesitation
Michael: I’ve already said how much I loved the third act and the climax, but my favorite moment of the whole film was when Exley has Dudley ready to surrender, he’s faced with a choice. His two main character traits in the film are doing the right thing, and ascending through the ranks as an officer. Here he is pointing a gun at his boss, who offers him all he can imagine and more in the force…but doing so would be the wrong thing. He hesitates. He can’t have both of his wants (or at least only one is guaranteed in each situation), and he freezes up. For a second, we think he’s going to let the villain get away, but then he digs down and makes a decision that is going to be much harder for him in the long run and guns down his boss. This height of character development had me literally applauding the film.

Aaron: I totally bit on that false finish. It’s a great piece of business from the always phenomenal James Cromwell and from Guy Pearce as well. I really liked that Dudley’s “I can manipulate or murder my way out of any situation” mindset fell apart here. I also liked how it didn’t have a nice and tidy ending. They could have easily chosen to end here and have someone recap the events, but instead we get a rattled, less innocent Exley explaining the situation. Pearce had been pretty reserved to that point, so it was fun to see him cut loose a little.

Michael: Speaking of “less innocent” Exley, I was loving every second of the scene where they did “Good Cop/Bad Cop” to the District Attorney and Bud dangled him out of a window. That was everything I didn’t even know I wanted from this film.

Aaron: This movie rocked my socks. It’s very film noir at its roots, and it may be the best neo-noir film this side of Chinatown. It’s character driven, well-paced storytelling that fires on all cylinders, perfectly builds to a game changing moment, and then gets even better. Screw Titanic, this is the real Best Picture of 1997.


Michael: Who am I to argue with a movie that excels at everything it does? I won’t call this a perfect movie or an all-time favorite for me because it’s not my genre of choice, but it is so great in every regard that I will absolutely call it an A+ movie.


Aaron: You know, this movie also does a better job at building up animosity between two characters until they fight, team up, and beat the evil bad guy than Batman v. Superman. So there’s that, too.

Michael: Still haven’t seen that. Makes me sad I didn’t want to see a movie with one of my all-time favorite characters in it (that being Batman), but here we are.

COMMENTERS: What are some of your favorite movies that you think we should cover?

Next week:

Aaron: One of my true loves in film is Disney Animation, and while we’ve both seen most of the ones worth covering, I’m glad we can tackle one of them next week.
Michael: I think this came out in that weird age range I had where I thought I was too much of an adult to enjoy Disney. I was wrong because since then, animation has become one of my favorite genres to watch. So many properties for kids carry an emotional heft that allow them to connect with adults as much if not more than with the kids. I’m looking forward to it immensely.

Aaron: It’s been a few years since I watched this and while I don’t consider it a favorite, I’m interested to see how I feel about it.

What is the best Disney animated film in the last decade?

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Aaron Has Another Column!
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The final score: review Virtually Perfect
The 411
L.A. Confidential is a nearly perfectly-executed crime thriller. It has an outstanding and all-around underrated cast, a tightly written narrative that will surprise you without confusing you, and excellent characters. If you love the genre, this is a must-watch. Even if you don't, we still highly recommend it.