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Curtis Hanson
Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, David Strathairn, Danny DeVito, Graham Beckel, Paul Guilfoyle, Ron Rifkin
Writing Credits:
James Ellroy (novel, "L.A. Confidential"), Brian Helgeland, Curtis Hanson

Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush ...

Director Curtis Hanson captures the duality of 1950s Los Angeles in this striking film noir adaptation of James Ellroy's novel. The City of Angels might be sunny, inviting, and glamorous to the rest of the world, but it's also filled with corrupt cops, elegant hookers, murder cover-ups, and manipulative paparazzi, all of which are just the tip of the iceberg. It's impossible to know exactly who's trustworthy and who's not as three detectives (Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, and Guy Pearce) each use their own tactics to investigate a coffee-shop massacre.

Box Office:
$35 million.
Opening Weekend
$5.211 million on 769 screens.
Domestic Gross
$64.604 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 138 min.
Price: $24.95
Release Date: 4/21/1998

• Music-Only Track
• “Off the Record” Featurette
• “Photo Pitch” Featurette
• “The LA of LA Confidential” Interactive Gallery
• Text Production Notes
• Cast and Crew Bios
• Trailer and TV Spots
• Soundtrack Promo


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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L.A. Confidential (1997)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 11, 2008)

Many years the Academy Awards race for Best Picture seems to come down to a battle between the critics' choice and the popular favorite. One major example of this occurred in 1995 when critical darling Pulp Fiction lost to the mega-successful Forrest Gump.

This kind of situation repeated itself to a degree in 1998 when the two top contenders were Titanic and LA Confidential. This battle didn't equal the Gump/Pulp feud, since Titanic received a much better critical reaction than did the saccharine Gump, but nonetheless the critical consensus backed the less crowd-pleasing LA Confidential.

I rooted for Titanic to win both because I liked it best and because I'm a big fan of James Cameron - Aliens remains possibly my all-time favorite film - so I was pleased with the result. Had the voting gone the other way, however, I would not have been terribly disappointed, for LA Confidential was an undeniably solid film as well.

Initially I didn’t really care to see LA Confidential. I've never been a big fan of the kind of stylized period piece it seemed to be, so I planned to take a pass on it. However, good reviews and a long day in a strange town with nothing to do but go to a movie conspired to send me to see it.

As you've undoubtedly already concluded, I felt quite pleasantly surprised. LA Confidential didn’t present a pretentious attempt to redo Raymond Chandler after all; instead I found it to be a compelling story of corruption and the forces that drive people to do what they do. Although it occasionally sagged, it maintained a fairly consistent level of interest and entertainment over its two-plus hour running time.

I've now seen LA Confidential an additional three times on DVD, and although the film essentially offers a mystery - a genre that tends to lose a lot of appeal on repeated viewings - the movie continues to intrigue and interest me. Partially this is because the plot is complicated enough that it takes a few extra sittings to truly take it all in; the film has an above-average number of characters, all of whom do quite a lot, so there are rarely dull moments.

As a whole, the cast is terrific, and the quality of their acting also supports repeated viewings. When I first saw Confidential, I was startled to learn that both of the then essentially unknown leads - Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce – were Australian; you'd never know from their performances. (While a lot of their dialogue appears to have been dubbed, that is the case with much of the cast, so this doesn't appear to be one of those Goldfinger cases where the actors’ original speech was at fault.) Kevin Spacey and Danny De Vito live up to their reputations as well, and David Strathairn provides a typically fine supporting job.

Two performances are of special note. First, Kim Basinger's work deserves comment since she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this role. I'm still not sure her acting was award-worthy, but I do acknowledge that she did quite well with the role. It's a very low-key, subdued performance, during which she never displays any of the kind of movie-star glitz that I would have expected from her; she truly brings out the weariness of her character.

I also wanted to note the acting of James Cromwell because I've slowly started to realize that he's one of the most versatile and consistently solid character actors around today. Look at a cross-section of a few of his roles: kindly Farmer Hoggett in Babe, eccentric inventor in Star Trek: First Contact, and sleazy police captain in LA Confidential. In each of these roles and many more, he quietly but convincingly did his work. All that, and he played a shifty swinger in an episode of Three's Company I saw a few months back! Now that’s versatility!

I still prefer Titanic and think it deserved its honors, but LA Confidential remains a solid flick. It adeptly creates a modern film noir without ever coming across as a weak imitation of a prior genre. The movie provides terrific acting and taut story telling and continues to provide a slick effort.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

LA Confidential appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Much of the time the movie looked excellent, but it suffered from a few small problems.

Sharpness looked erratic. While some parts of the film looked reasonably well-defined, many parts demonstrated light softness. I thought delineation was usually acceptable but that was about it; this was rarely a particularly crisp image. No shimmering occurred, but I saw some mild jagged edges. In addition, I noticed light edge enhancement. In regard to print flaws, I saw a little grain at times, and I also witnessed some specks, grit, and a scratch or two.

Confidential tended toward a sepia palette to fit its period setting. Colors were decent and not often much better. A few scenes featured brighter tones, but these remained fairly average. Blacks were acceptably dark, while low-light shots showed good delineation. Though those shots tended to suffer from the most noticeable softness, they presented fine clarity in terms of shadows. At no point did Confidential become a bad transfer, but I thought it seemed average.

Though the film often used a somewhat sepia look, it often provided a vivid palette, and the DVD replicated the hues very nicely. The colors always came across as clear and vibrant, and they showed no signs of bleeding, noise, or other concerns. The tones seemed quite positive across the board. Black levels appeared deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not overly thick. In the end, the edge enhancement and print flaws caused a few issues, but I still found L.A. Confidential to present a good image.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of LA Confidential worked reasonably well, though it didn’t provide a broad enough soundfield to merit more than a “B”. The track showed good stereo spread throughout the movie, and the forward channels offered a nice sense of atmosphere. Elements blended well and moved smoothly across the front spectrum. As for the surrounds, they contributed moderate reinforcement of the front elements and only sporadically provided unique information. The shootout at the end of the film definitely gave us the most active use of the rear speakers.

Audio quality appeared fine, though speech suffered due to all that looping. Much of the dubbed dialogue seemed too obvious, and this made the track come across as more artificial than it should. The lines remained natural and distinct, though, and they showed no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects sounded clean and accurate, and they displayed no distortion. Some of the louder elements line gunfire kicked in solid bass response. Music also seemed vibrant and robust with deep and rich low-end. In the end, the track lacked the sonic ambition to earn a high grade, but LA Confidential still provided a quality auditory experience.

Back when LA Confidential hit DVD in 1998, it included a solid array of extras. In 2008, the package seems less stellar, but it still features a few interesting pieces. An 18-minute and 49-second featurette called Off the Record includes notes from director Curtis Hanson, writer Brian Helgeland, novelist James Ellroy, executive producer David L. Wolper, producer Arnon Milchan, and actors Kim Basinger, Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, and Danny DeVito. “Record” provides a good general overview of the film. It emphasizes the novel’s adaptation, getting the project off the ground, and casting. It turns into an enjoyable piece.

An alternate audio option appears. We can listen to the film via a Music-Only Track. This allows fans to hear Jerry Goldsmith’s score in its full Dolby Digital 5.1 glory. While I don’t have a great fondness for movie music, I think this is a nice bonus for film score buffs.

Photo Pitch goes for eight minutes, 25 seconds. In it, Hanson leads us through his use of the “photo pitch” for cast and Milchan. This was part of the way he managed to get involvement in the project. It offers a neat look at this process.

Next we find The LA of LA Confidential. This program provides brief snippets of real-life details for the locations used in the film. It seems interesting but the awkward interface mars the piece. Although it features 15 locations, you can only access one clip at a time. Due to the brevity of the clips – they last about 20 to 30 seconds each – it can become a tedious exercise to watch all of them. The DVD should have provided a “Play All” option to make access easier.

A few minor extras fill out the set. We get Cast and Crew Bios for composer Jerry Goldsmith, director of photography Dante Spinotti, novelist James Ellroy, screenwriter Brian Helgeland, director Curtis Hanson, producers Arnon Milchan and Michael Nathanson, and actors Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger and David Strathairn. More text production notes discuss the LA Mob Scene of the movie’s era, the way Dragnet reflected the LAPD in the Fifties, the factual basis behind “Bloody Christmas”, a chart of 1953 prices for some common commodities, and a list of awards for which Confidential received nominations.

Finally, some ads cap the package. We get three TV spots as well as the movie’s trailer and a soundtrack promo.

One of the better modern film noirs, LA Confidential holds up well after more than a decade. It definitely stands as one of the best Oscar runner-ups in history, as it offers an involving, dynamic tale. The DVD suffers from a bland transfer, but it comes with fairly good audio and a few interesting supplements. This is a decent release for a fine movie.

To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL

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