Oscar Vault Monday – L.A. Confidential, 1997 (dir. Curtis Hanson)

This film is one of the all-time great ensembles out there. It features stellar performances from so many great actors. It also is so wonderfully stylized, from the costumes to the sets to Jerry Goldsmith’s phenomenal score. The film was nominated for 9 Academy Awards in 1997. Although it lost Best Picture to Titanic, Kim Basinger walked away with the Best Supporting Actress award as did the Adapted Screenplay by Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson.

I first saw this film on TNT about ten years ago and it was edited and I could sort of tell I wasn’t seeing the whole picture. Once I got it on DVD it was almost like watching a whole other film. The cinematography by Dante Spinotti is just so breathtaking and the sets and art direction so wonderful it really is ruined when it’s not seen widescreen. It’s also another film where the flow is just destroyed by commercials. 

In one of the DVD special features they talk about how when they tried to cast the film they wanted to find men who looked like 1950s movie stars and were having difficulty finding the right type in Hollywood. Someone then suggested a handful of Australian actors, which was at first not well accepted. In the end there are no less than three Australian actors in the film, two in the lead roles. One being Russell Crowe, who would later go on to be nominated for Best Actor three years running (1999 for The Insider, 2000 for Gladiator – he won, 2001 A Beautiful Mind) The role of Bud White is perfect for the kind of crazy intensity Crowe is so good at. It’s also a role that’s really dependent on the face. The bulk of Crowe’s performance is not spoken, it’s in his looks.

Australian actor number two was Guy Pearce, who prior to this film was best known for his portrayal of a drag queen in the Australian film Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Pearce is phenomenal in this role. He excels at being both loved for his morals and hated for his means. He more than holds his own against the rest of the ensemble.

Mostly known for playing villains on television and on film, and winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing the villain in The Usual Suspects in 1995 (he went on to win another Oscar,  Best Actor in 1999 for American Beauty), Spacey is perfect has the marquee cop who’s lost his way. His performance is one of the more subtle performances in the film and as such is one of the more heartbreaking. At one point there’s an exchange between his character and Pearce’s Exley, wherein Exley asks him why he became a cop in the first place and he replies “I don’t remember anymore.” Spacey’s delivery is utterly heartbreaking. This is definitely one of my favorite of his performances. 

As much as I enjoy Basinger in this role, for the last ten years I have been trying to understand why she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. I’ve watched this film countless times and I just don’t see it. Maybe it’s so subtle it goes over my head. I don’t know. Every time I watch it I try to see something more in her performance and I just never do. Do any of you dear readers have an explanation for me?

James Cromwell is one of my favorite actors. I love the slight Irish accent he does in this film. I love how from the very beginning of the film you know something is not quite right with him. He gives off a very strange vibe throughout the film and it is just wonderful.

Danny DeVito is so fabulous as trashy tabloid journalist Sid Hudgens. He and Spacey play off each other so well in their scenes together. He’s definitely the only actor I could imagine playing this role.

The film’s third Australian is Simon Baker, now known for his various television shows – most recently The Mentalist, this was his film debut. He so fits the atheistic of the time it’s so great and really proves that whoever thought to look to Australia for 50s style, blonde and blue eyed all-American boys knew what they were doing.

If you haven’t seen this film, you really really should. And if you have seen it and I’ve suddenly reminded you that you wish you owned it, you can purchase the DVD here

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on May 3, 2010, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. This is one of my all-time favorite movies. I grew up in LA in the 1950s and my brother in the 40s so I recognize the terrain, the styles, the houses, the oil derricks, and the cars. I also recognized that the casting of the Chief of Police was amazing – he looked the way I remembered.

    I love the music, Kevin Spacey doing an homage to Dean Martin, the boys from down under and Cromwell being so sleazy and evil. I love the film noir feel contrasted with the technicolor southern California sun.

    About Bassinger – I don’t know exactly. I was rooting for Gloria Stuart but that may have been because I was thinking age before beauty. I probably like Bassinger’s performance better than the other nominees, although I would be hard pressed to defend that. In a way her character is the ultimate symbol of the corruption that the film is illuminating – the beauty on top in the Business, the orange groves, the ocean, with the decay underneath, along with the illusion that is Hollywood and the fact that LA was headquarters for a section of organized crime. Lynne – is all of that – A prostitute and porn actress who looks like a famous movie star. And she was incredibly beautiful in this film.

    I like to think that this is a movie that will age into Classic status.

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