LA Confidential (1997)

Genre: Thriller, Drama

Cast: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger

Synopsis: Three cops try to solve a brutal multiple homicide in 1950s Los Angeles. Each has their own motives for solving the crime but before they do they must confront corruption in the police force, Hollywood celebrity, and their own personal demons.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started watching LA Confidential because I had heard numerous things about it: that it was complicated, that it presents a distorted view of Los Angeles, that it was brilliant and grisly at the same time. After watching it I can say that I was impressed by its multi-layered and winding narrative, its stellar performances, and its presentation of Los Angeles which, like the characters in the film, has hidden depth beneath a cracked veneer of beauty and celebrity.

I can’t really tell you much about the plot without giving key information away but the movie is very much character driven and follows three members of the LAPD as they try to solve a gruesome mass shooting in a café. We have Ed, portrayed by Guy Pearce, who is the son of a legendary LAPD detective who wants to live up to his father’s reputation but wants to do so by the book. Bud, played by Russell Crowe, is an aggressive and violent cop who likes to beat up woman-beaters. Finally we have Jack, fantastically played by Kevin Spacey, who is more obsessed with celebrity and getting his name in the papers than actually solving the case. As each becomes involved in the case they are forced to question their motives and methods and deal with all levels of corruption.

To a large extent, the movie and its characters are metaphors for LA. The city, just like everyone in this movie, has an outward image that most people pick up on but beneath the glamor and the pretense is a kind of admirable grit. It’s not always pretty and, in a lot of ways, it can be kind of fucked up, but it’s there. It’s not the only thing that’s there though:  there’s honesty and a desire for redemption and something better. This is best seen in Kim Basinger’s performance as a high class hooker preened to look like Veronica Lake. She has a cool and aloof exterior but underneath is a sensitivity and an acceptance: she knows what she is and she doesn’t like it but God damn she puts up with it. It’s an impressive performance. I wouldn’t necessarily have given her the academy award, considering that this was the year Julianne Moore was nominated for her performance in Boogie Nights, but Basinger’s acclaim is well deserved.

LA Confidential is Hollywood Noire at its finest: stylish, complex, and twisted. The Black Dahlia should have taken notes. It’s a movie that analyses the best and worst features of a city at a time when it needed that analysis most. The film was released fairly soon after the Rodney King incident and the race riots so it’s interesting to see how race is dealt with in the film. What’s even more interesting is that the film still holds a poignancy in light of the recent Dorner manhunt. That’s part of the film’s charm I guess. It’s timeless.


  • Kevin Spacey and Kim Basinger are a pleasure to watch.
  • The complexity. It’s a very engrossing movie that keeps you guessing.
  • The Lana Turner scene was brilliant


  • The brutality and the horror of what’s happening can be a real downer.
  • What happens to those poor teenagers caught smoking pot. It made me super paranoid. Good thing it’s not like that anymore in LA.
  • Eeeeww naked old lady


LA Confidential is a great piece of cinema and, while not for everyone, it has a charm to it that I could easily admire. I would recommend this movie to anyone who likes indica strains. There’s nothing particularly trippy or visually exciting so a sativa isn’t really needed. In fact, I’d be tempted to say that sativas might not be the best choice because you could get lost when trying to follow the plot. Watch it, enjoy it, and pray that cops really aren’t this crooked in real life.




Filed under Drama, Great, Thriller

5 responses to “LA Confidential (1997)

  1. Great review. Great movie – one of my favorites.

    • Thank you. I was surprised by how good it was. I wasn’t really expecting it. Definitely one to add to the DVD collection.

      • Yep 🙂 It’s been a long time since I first watched it now but I also remember being very pleasantly surprised by JUST how good it was – I wasn’t expecting it as I wouldn’t say it’s a genre I normally go for.

  2. theipc

    Great write up on a great movie! This is one that can be watched over and over again!

  3. davecrewe

    Every time I watch this film (which is probably in the double digits by now) I pick up new details in the narrative. It’s so incredibly complex and dense – more so than any other movie I’ve seen – and there’s some really important bits of information hidden in snatches of dialogue and whatnot. Normally I prefer atmosphere to an overcomplicated story, but LA Confidential hits the sweet spot for me.

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