L.A. Confidential (1997)

Note: This blog entry was written by Dan Levine.

You can find him here.

Recently in some sort of misguided attempt to reconnect with the larger culture, and, I’ll admit it, fill in checks in various film canons, deserving and otherwise, which I’ve been attempting to work my way through, I’ve been watching a large number of more recent American films I never bothered with because they looked boring and awful.

For the most part I’ve been vindicated in my assumptions. L.A. Confidential, a film that for whatever reasons has been a critical darling for some time now, is a visually boring film salvaged partially by a number of decent performances. The 1990s were the commercial peak of the “shocking” twist ending film and many films were possessed of little else of merit (if a “twist” ending can even really be considered inherently a merit and not a discredit). I don’t need to name these, I’m sure you’ve all seen them and know them.

LA Confidential is such a film, and like a surprisingly large number of such films, it features Kevin Spacey. It shows us that, golly, them police officers in the 50s sure were racist and that police work they did could get gosh darned violent and messy and stuff. Wow. What a revelation. I sure needed the movies to tell me that. It falls in the trend of films revising the supposed untruths of earlier cinematic grammar, in this case of the noir genre particularly, by replacing it with something even more stilted and artificial. In the running subplot of the hookers made to look like film stars of the period it even has a layered commentary on its own artifice. And that’s like, deep man. Like, meta. And stuff.

The visual grammar of the film makes most episodes of How I Met Your Mother look like daring leaps into the experimental abyss. When someone shoots someone you might get a brief respite from the interminable shot-reverse shot, shot-reverse shot, shoot me already stylistics.  And don’t get too excited because even the shoot outs fall into shot reverse shot.

Hardboiled dialogue several photocopies removed from the pulpy mediocrities that inspired it is not good writing. Visual style so obvious you wonder if it might not be the director’s contempt for the audience’s intelligence but an actual deficiency in his own comprehension doesn’t really justify the existence of the cinema. And my great regret is that this film never veers off to the level of incompetence where these things can be truly interesting (expect a post justifying the critical study of early B-movies sometime in the future.)

Also, the first half, whether or not it’s seemingly redeemed in a “ooh! It was the evil senior officer and the supposedly black shooters were really framed” twist at the end, was basically framed like a white supremacist’s wet dream. Perfectly coiffed white guys in really nice suits that seem to have always just been ironed shooting unarmed black guys with giant shotguns like they were hunting them. Your characters being racist doesn’t excuse you uncritically entering their perspective Mr. Hanson. Though maybe your cinematic incompetence does…

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