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L.A. Confidential (1997)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/23/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/3/2008

Obviously, one of the great things about home video is that we can watch a movie any time which we want to. This makes going back and visiting older films a snap -- something which was nearly impossible just 30 years ago. It's especially interesting to re-visit highly-praised or award-winning movies to see if they've stood the test of time. Is it a situation where the press and the public simply overreacted to the movie when it was released, or is it a true classic. In this spirit, let's look at L.A. Confidential, newly released on Blu-ray Disc.

L.A. Confidential is set in Los Angeles, 1953. It's a time of booming growth in California, and L.A. is seen as a wonderful place where movies are made. The movie tells the stories of three men who work for the Los Angeles Police Department. Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce) is a second-generation L.A. cop who's known for being smart, but lacking in toughness. He becomes a Lieutenant Detective after he agrees to testify against dirty cops. Bud White (Russell Crowe) is a physical presence on the force. He's been known to rough up suspects, but he has a soft spot for any case involving an abused woman. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), also known as "Hollywood Jack" is a consultant for the TV show Badge of Honor (which looks suspiciously like Dragnet) and makes most of his arrests based on tips from tabloid reporter Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito). Vincennes is investigating a mysterious escort service called "Fleur de Lis". White meets a mysterious woman named Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), and is immediately intrigued by her. Exley is the first on the scene at a shooting spree in a coffee shop which leaves six dead, including a cop and one of Bracken's acquaintances. The shooting creates an uproar in the community and Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) demands swift action from his officers. Despite the fact that they begin on very different cases, Exley, White, and Vincennes soon realize that everything leads back to the coffee shop shooting and vice versa.

With a running time of 138 minutes, L.A. Confidential is pretty much on par with other epic Oscar-caliber films as far as length goes. But, as you could probably guess from that synopsis, L.A. Confidential contains enough story for three movies. Director Curtis Hanson and co-writer Brian Helgeland have taken James Ellroy's detailed novel and turned it into a fairly streamlined movie. I haven't read the book, but I get the feeling that they didn't cut a lot of corners with the story, as L.A. Confidential is simply chock full of story. While Hanson has done a great job of re-creating the world of 1950's L.A. and coaxing his actors, his greatest achievement here is helping us to navigate this story. The movie is very well-paced and it lets the narrative unfold at a very natural pace. I hadn't seen the movie in a few years, and I remember the "Nite Owl Massacre" taking place at the very beginning, not 30 minutes in. This is an example of how the film allows us time to get settled in.

Not only is the story dense, but it's powerful as well. Several of the character's go through major story arcs where we see them change their views on the world. At its core, L.A. Confidential is a tale of ethics and morals and the choices that people must make in their lives as they choose from right or wrong. Exley, White, and Vincennes are all adult men who have come to view the world in a certain way. However, the events of the film have a direct effect on this, and we are with them every step of the way as they begin to re-think not only who they are, but who they want to be.

Of course one can't discount the cast here. While he had been in two American productions prior to L.A. Confidential, this was Russell Crowe's first big role in the U.S. and I still consider this to be one of his best. Despite the fact that White is constantly fighting, Crowe is very restrained in his performance and we always see the despair on Bud's face. Similarly, this was Guy Pearce's first chance to make a name for himself in America, and we feel the chip on Exley's shoulder. Kevin Spacey is great as a man who isn't accustomed to feeling unease.

I'm happy to report that 11 years later, L.A. Confidential is still a very powerful film. Typically, period piece + Oscar winner = not my kind of movie, but L.A. Confidential proves that movies can be intelligent, literate, emotional, but still be suspenseful and exciting. The detailed story and the great acting combine to make a truly memorable film.

L.A. Confidential slaps the cuffs on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 22 Mbps. The picture looks good, as it is sharp and clear. There is some mild grain in daytime exterior shots, but there are no defects from the source material. The colors look good, especially red blood or bright neon lights, and the image is neither too bright or too dark. The picture has a nice amount of depth, most notably in nighttime shots. Just look at the scene where Jack and Hudgens are going to arrest the actors. With the theater behind them, the image looks as if we could walk into it. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.7 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We get some very nice stereo effects here. Just listen to the ricocheting bullets moving from speaker to speaker in the finale. The subwoofer action is good as well, as evidenced by the stretch where there is a thunderstorm. Surround sound effects come into play with the rain and any crowd scene. For a TrueHD track, this is very good. The Blu-ray also contains an isolated music only track.

The L.A. Confidential Blu-ray Disc contains a host of special features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Critic Andrew Sarris, Author James Ellroy, actors Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Costume Designer Ruth Myers, Producer Brian Helgeland, Director of Photography Dante Spinotti, and Production Designer Jeannine Oppewall. "Whatever You Desire: Making L.A. Confidential" (30 minutes) is a newly-made featurette which examines the making of the movie. Through comments from Hanson, Crowe, Ellroy, Producer Arnon Milchan, Spacey, Basinger, DeVito, Cromwell, Strathairn, Oppewall, Spinotti, Pearce, and Myers, we learn about how the film came about, the casting, and the creation of a period piece through sets and costumes. There are a lot of clips here, but no behind-the-scenes footage. In "Sunlight and Shadow: The Visual Style of L.A. Confidential" (21 minutes) Hanson, Spinotti, Myers, and Oppewall talk about the look of the movie and the work that went into creating the noir feel of the movie...by not making it noir. "A True Ensemble: The Cast of L.A. Confidential" (25 minutes) examines the extraordinary cast and how Hanson cast unknowns so that the audience wouldn't project any specific feelings onto the actors. We get comments from most of the main cast here. "L.A. Confidential: From Book to Screen" (21 minutes) has Hanson, co-screenwriter Brian Helgeland, and Ellroy discussing the challenge of adapting the massive book to the screen, and how the big story was boiled down. "Off the Record" (19 minutes) is a making-of featurette which appeared on the previous DVD release. Hanson shows us how he used period photos to get his story across to the producers in "Photo Pitch" (8 minutes). In a very interesting movie, Warner has included the 46-minute pilot to the L.A. Confidential TV show, which was made in 2000, but never picked up. Starring Kiefer Sutherland, this is certainly an experiment which is worth seeing. "The L.A. of L.A. Confidential" is an interactive tour of the locations from the film. The extras are rounded out by four TRAILERS & TV SPOTS.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long