Monday, March 06, 2017

City Of Devils-Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe’s “L.A. Confidential” (1997)-A Film, No, A Film Noir Review

City Of Devils-Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe’s “L.A. Confidential” (1997)-A Film, No, A Film Noir Review

DVD Review
By Film Critic Sam Lowell

L.A. Confidential, starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, 1997

No question those black and white film noir beauties like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s The Big Sleep, Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer’s Out Of The Past and Humphrey Bogart again and Mary Astor’s The Maltese Falcon were the epitome of the genre back in the day, back in the 1940s. But there were also plenty of what were called B-films, low budget things that filled out those Saturday afternoon matinees at the old Majestic Theater that I was addicted to as a kid. Films like City Block with Ralph Stearn and Blow-up with Sara Lang and Ted Asten. Movies I am sure you have never heard of. That same division has occurred in the neo-noir revival of the past couple of decades. Some stuff that passes away without a murmur. And then there is the film under review, L.A. Confidential, which might rightly be the very best of all the revival films.      
Here’s the skinny on how this beauty played out. Deep in the early 1950s, 1953 to be exact, before L.A. became the mega-city that it is today although it was even then growing by leaps and bounds with the construction of the big superhighways the old time police establishment had earned it pay by keeping a lid on scandal, especially of the Hollywood variety and of its own ways of doing business. Oh, yeah, and keeping the braceros and the blacks at bay.  You can’t draw people from places like Steubenville, Ohio to the city if they don’t feel safe. That led to some pretty raw police activity to keep things under control. And to how to address the question of what the LAPD should look like -the old-fashioned good old boy way or by cleaning up the operation.      

Tensions quickly developed between the “new wave” represented by Lt Exley, a college boy, play by Guy Pearce and old style “knock them down and as questions later” street cop Bud White played by Russell Crowe. Kind of hanging in between is Sargent Jack Vincennes, played by Kevin Spacey who is more concerned about getting good press via a sleaze-bag “tell all” magazine Hush Hush and his main contact with the rag Sid Hudgens played by Danny Devito. The whole thing explodes one night though when a seemingly botched robbery of an all-night diner, the Nite Owl, turned into a mass murder scene including a suspended cop among the victims. All the evidence points to the culprits being three black guys. What else is new. They are eventually caught and gunned down.    

But something was not right with the whole diner scene, too easy maybe and both Exley and Vincennes sensed that those black guys were framed for some other purpose. And they were, they were the unknowing victims of a power grab, an early power grab by a guy who was running a high-end call girl service and a corrupt cop, a Captain no less, who were trying to corner the lucrative heroin trade. Before the dust settles on this one, with a few “red herring” false leads which are always the hallmark of a good noir, Vincennes figures out that the Captain is the drug kingpin that he was looking for. Little good it did him since that Captain wasted him without a minute’s hesitation. Moreover the Captain has to clean up all over. Get rid of that guy running the high end call girl service, the snoopy rag mag guy, and almost Exley and White who in the end know that the Captain is the drug king. But it was a close thing since that was something like a military-style shoot-out where both Exley and White barely survived and the Captain took the big fall down. Guess what though that Captain in publicity conscious LAPD-speak was made a hero along with Exley. Yeah, cover-up, cover-up deep. Some things never change. Just like the plots of high-end noirs.    

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