It shouldn’t have been possible, heck it probably shouldn’t have even been attempted, James Ellroy’s book was considered to be unfilmable by everybody in the business, save for one man. That man was Curtis Hanson, who at this stage was a average film-maker whose most notable contribution to cinema was the well regarded The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. Not only did he think it could be done he thought it could be great. And damn was he right, but it’s not just great, it’s incredible. Visually sumptuous, magnificently told and with acting of the very highest calibre this is old school movie-making like the masters used to do.
Of course the plot has everything you need a great movie. The movie industry, corrupt cops, tabloid journalism, gangsters and sexual obsession all set in 1950’s Los Angeles. The backdrop provides the glamour but the story provides the depth.
The opening alone is fantastic, narrated as it is by Sid Hudgens, played by Danny DeVito, a classic paparazzi parasite who publishes Hush-Hush magazine and bribes cop Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) to set up celebrity arrests. Back in police HQ we meet 3 officers who represent the different choices the LA police force has of moving forward. Vincennes, the poster-boy of police corruption; Bud White (Russell Crowe), an aggressive young cop who is quite happy to work just outside the law; and Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), a by-the-book meticulous investigator who is the bane of his superiors.
Each of the characters then has a definite role but the trick lies in who is innocent and who is guilty. We all know who should be, but the movie plays with the reveal. Adding considerable glamour and sex appeal to the all-male show is Kim Basinger as the seductive high-class call girl Lynn Bracken at the centre of the investigation into the spate of recent gangland-style executions.
Above everything stands the acting with Pearce, Crowe and Spacey giving some of their best performances ever. James Cromwell too is magnificent as the police captain who is proud of his boys, who he deems all “good lads”. L.A. too is beautifully represented in the cinematography of Dante Spinotti oozing glitz and glamour, but with a dark side that’s only a curtain twitch away.
Mixing film-noir with moralist drama in a way few before have ever managed the movie deservedly scored big at the Oscars with Hanson receiving the golden statue for Best Director and Basinger picking up Best Supporting Actress.
After more than 10 years it still remains one of my favourite movies ever and each viewing only reinforces it’s status. Do yourself a favour buy the Blu-ray now.