L. A. Confidential

L. A. Confidential (1997)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, Russel Crowe, Danny DeVito, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, David Strathairn
Extras: Documentaries, Isolated score, Production Notes, Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots

"L. A. Confidential" was clearly one of the best films of 1997, and it garnered an impressive number of Academy Award nominations. In a hopeless face-off against the behemoth "Titanic", it even succeeded in winning two of the awards, against all odds. One, as "Best Supporting Actress", went to Kim Basinger for her portrayal of the call girl Lynn Bracken; the other went to Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland for "Best Screenplay". It also won a huge number of Critic’s Awards and other important industry honors. Warner’s DVD release gives you the perfect chance to take a close-up and personal look at this incredible film, a movie that impressed audiences and critics alike.

In Los Angeles of the 1950s a bunch of policemen try to stay on top of crime in the dark alleyways of the City of Angels. One of them is Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), a young aspiring police detective who tries to fill his father’s shoes – a tall order, for his father was a highly decorated and respected detective who died in the line of duty. He is an extremely righteous – and ambitious – loner in a department where most other cops are trying to make a few bucks on the side. On the other side of the scale, there is Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), a celebrity among cops. He has achieved this status by cleverly aligning himself with tabloid reporter Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito). The two of them have developed a scam that places the reporter and his trusty camera at the right place at the right time, prominently featuring Jack’s criminal busts on the cover page of the sleazy magazine "Hush Hush".

Bud White (Russell Crowe) and Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel) are a team of policemen who believe more in curbside justice than in that meted out by courts of law – and they’re not averse to setting up situations that will justify their actions. This corrupt attitude infects the police department – many of the other officers do the same thing, each of them covering for others in a code of silence. That is, until one drunken night, when a few righteously drunken policemen take out some frustration and aggression on some suspected cop-beaters, prisoners who are helpless in their cells. Exley testifies against them in exchange for a promotion to Homicide Detective status, and in return helps arrange a cover-up that will save the department’s image. In order to restore order among the ranks and restore the public trust in the L. A. police force, Stensland is released from service. Two days later, he is found dead, shot in a mysterious all-night diner hold-up. Thus begins the intrigue. Digging into the case for their personal ambitions, Exley, Vincennes and White make their own discoveries, none of which make a whole lot of sense – but when more and more bodies pile up, they start putting their pieces together for the bigger picture. A picture bigger and badder than they had ever imagined.

Much of the film’s charm is a result of the elaborate and faithful production design, and the fact that it actually manages to revive a lost era, when Los Angeles was Hollywood, a glamorous city of sin and every careerist’s dream. The film is beautiful to behold and it perfectly lays out the rules of the city. It is a city of vice, corruption, tabloid press, drugs, glamour, money, and more. Not since "Chinatown" has there been a noir movie that has so faithfully captured the spirit of LA in days past.

The film features a great cast with a number of unfamiliar faces, who nevertheless leave outstanding and lasting impressions. Interestingly, the most famous actors of the film, Danny DeVito and Kevin Spacey, are almost supporting actors, creating an intriguing mix and definitely a challenge for the less well-known actors. Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce have no problem facing this challenge. They dig into their characters’ personae with an astounding believability and should have been flooded with casting offers after this film. The film’s script creates very dimensional characters with depth and motivations that go beyond the scope of the film. This richness in their back story makes them believable, sympathetic, and firmly plants them in the scenario laid out for our enjoyment.

Warner Home Video have released "L. A. Confidential" on DVD in a Special Edition, containing a beautiful <$16x9,anamorphic> 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> version of the film. The film’s cinematography was designed to create very deep and dark shadows, maintaining even the subtlest hues in the dazzlingly colorful settings. The lighting settings range from gloomy interior shots to bright daylight scenes, and the film’s transfer to this DVD contains all those nuances without any visible artifacts. There is no sign of <$chroma,chroma noise>, color bleeding, or <$pixelation,pixelation> to be seen anywhere on this disc. The colors a strong and vibrant and appear absolutely natural, even under the most difficult lighting conditions, no doubt due to the increased compression bit rate the use of an <$RSDL,RSDL> disc has allowed and the high quality of the source material used for the transfer.

Being a Special Edition, the disc contains a number of supplements, such as a behind-the-scenes documentary called "Off The Record", which includes interviews with many cast and crew members. It also contains "Photo Pitch", which showcases how director Curtis Hanson used contemporary photographs to create and explain the atmosphere he wished to re-create in the film to the producers and studios he was trying to sell the movie to. Another bonus highlight is "The L. A. of L. A. Confidential", an interactive map which brings up and explains many of the landmarks and locations seen throughout the film.

"L.A. Confidential" has an amazing soundtrack, written by Jerry Goldsmith. The film’s soundtrack was nominated for an Academy Award, but unfortunately lost – though in my opinion, it was the superior soundtrack – to James Horner’s "Titanic" soundtrack. The orchestral score he wrote for this film is both contemporary and daring, as many of Jerry’s best scores are. He managed to capture the unique flair of the times when the story takes place, while utilizing elements and styles that do not immediately spring to mind when thinking of the era. It clearly shows that his passion for music is still untamed, even after over 40 years of film scoring. As an additional piece of candy, Warner have also created a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack that contains Jerry Goldsmith’s isolated orchestral score only. This score is definitely a must for every aficionado of film music or aspiring composer, because it displays Goldsmith’s skills without any distraction through sound effects or dialog cues. It gives you a good chance to study how he manages to let the visuals and the music work with each other and how masterfully many pieces of the music are placed and woven into the context of the film. It also brings out the fine nuances he has put into his arrangements, which otherwise get lost in the overall cacophony of the film. The film is completely dubbed in English and French and is <$CC,closed captioned> in English. French and Spanish subtitles are also supplied on the disc, selectable from the disc’s interactive menu.

"L. A. Confidential" is an atmospheric and ambitious movie that will capture you right form the start. It is masterfully crafted and all the elements work together so effortlessly that it lets you dive right into the movie’s story and enchanting atmosphere. It truly brings to life the Los Angeles of the fifties, and it uses a compelling crime story to present you with all those settings and feelings. It is a film crafted in the best Hollywood tradition and it clearly was one of the best films of 1997. Now that it has been skillfully converted into a great DVD Special Edition, there is nothing that should keep you from experiencing the engulfing magic of "L. A. Confidential" for yourself.