WHAT I LIKED: Curtis Hanson's 'L.A. Confidential,' follows a team of 1950s cops investigating a suspicious mass-murder, but unlike some Police procedurals which are all about the mystery, this one is most of all about Police ineptitude and corruption.
That's because the script introduces and continually hints at an obvious mob involvement in the case, but then watches everyone involved - including the three protagonists - jump from one obviously implausible low-level lead to another, all whilst colluding with their superiors and the press (namely Dani DeVito's character Sid) to keep up appearances.
Admittedly, each one of the central trio are very different, but all are flawed in many ways. There's the clean-cut, reactive and stressed Exley (Guy Pearce) who lets the pressure of solving the case get in the way of any true reasoning. There's the smug showman Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) who's more concerned with image and self-preservation than results, and lastly the muscle Bud White (Russel Crowe) whose rage always gets in the way of his detective work. Those traits become increasingly clear throughout the movie, but they're introduced brilliantly by their respective reactions to a cell brawl at the start of the film; invariably choosing to protect themselves, their colleagues, or the force as a whole, but crucially never acting in the interests of true justice when under pressure from their superiors. Their forced hands and reactive behavior continues throughout, and the result feels rather like a Le Carré story wher looking for and exposing the truth is always shown to be career-threatening and imossible.
Only in the engaging final act, after the case is closed and many folks are dead and behind bars, do any of them attempt to free themselves of that and really go about solving the mystery to reveal the truths and corruption at hand. But from start to finish the film remains a brilliantly cynical portrait where the ineptitude is claustrophobic and not one individual is free of some level of complicity in their collective failings.
That's helped to life by a wordy script and snappy direction which always keeps the anxst up, as well as a nail-biting score from Jerry Goldsmith. But it's thankfully not free from a level of humanism either thanks to a cast of incredible performers all acting at the top of their games, and that's hugely important in a film that could have easily felt extremelly cynical and disconnected from any real human nature.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: For most of its runtime, there's little to engage you beyond the general cynicism because noone's focused on finding the truth, and the characters are mostly running round in obviously aimless circles. When they do finally get the ball rolling, some of the plot reveals are a little confusing.
VERDICT: Because it spends most of its runtime following cops fail to pursue justice, 'L.A. Confidential,' is largely a brilliantly cynical portrait of Police ineptitude and corruption.