L.A. Confidential (1997)

Another re-posted review from Years Gone By, but my feelings about the film has not changed at all.  Still amazingly excellent.

Directed by Curtis Hanson and adapted from James Ellroy’s novel, L.A. Confidential is a star-studded film noir based in 1950s Los Angeles. If you’re not familiar with the film, stop for a second and go over the tagged actors. Kevin Spacey nearing his prime (actually, I prefer his performance in this movie to his Oscar-winning performance in American Beauty), Russell Crowe before he became overrated, Guy Pearce before anyone forgot who he was, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, David Stathairn, Ron Rifkin.

The story revolves around Ed Exley’s (Pearce) attempts to rise up in the ranks of the L.A. police force by being as honest a cop as he could possibly be. Problem is, when the Captain of your police force (Cromwell) has a degree of moral flexibility when it comes to the law, the rest of the men tend to follow that lead. Even the flashiest of L.A.’s cops have a dark underbelly to them, what with Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Spacey) taking pay offs from a tabloid newspaper publisher (DeVito) for basically entrapping D-list celebrities. It all comes to a head during Bloody Christmas, when a newspaper runs a story of prisoner abuse on Christmas Eve in the county jailhouse and certain officers end up taking the fall, thanks to Exley’s incriminating report. No one is more pissed off about this than Officer Bud White (Crowe) whose partner ends up being kicked off the force and eventually murdered in a grisly bloodbath at the Nite Owl Diner.

There are many more plotlines to come and all of them end up dovetailing into the same one at the conclusion of the movie. Credit for this should of course go primarily to Ellroy for his wonderful novel, but also to Brian Hegleland for his adaptation of the novel to the screen. It’s a masterful piece of work that still gives you chills no matter how many times you watch the movie. It might also be the sunniest film noir ever made, probably right up there with Out of Sight which came out the following year. It’s a crime that this film didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar in 1998, and I may just watch Titanic at some point soon just to see how ripped off L.A. Confidential was (note: I still haven’t watched Titanic, probably never will).

The cast are top notch professionals and in hindsight it’s amazing that so many great actors worked on this one project together and no one’s ego seemed to get in the way. Even though Spacey receives top billing on the film, he doesn’t have to carry it on his shoulders. The movie lives and dies on Guy Pearce’s performance, but he’s still just one of the cogs in the machinery. Everyone has a part to play (over 80 speaking roles) and they all knock it out of the park, thanks to Curtis Hanson’s excellent direction.

If I were to sit down now and make myself another Top Five Movies list, I’d be hard-pressed to not include this movie in that list. I think the only reason it’s not on that list now is because of my inclusion of Out of Sight since they’re of a similar genre and both employ a wonderfully talented cast to perfection. I gave The Usual Suspects a perfect mark, but this film is better than that. It’s a shame that I can’t have higher degrees of perfection on a rating scale, because this movie holds itself on a higher level than almost every other movie I’ve given a perfect score to. Anyone that hasn’t watched, nay immersed themselves in this movie should run out and buy themselves a copy right now. You will not be sorry.

5 / 5

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The Negotiator (1998)

In the interest of full disclosure, the first time I reviewed this movie, I gave it a full 5 stars.  I’m posting that review here now, and I still love the movie, but I don’t think it’s a 5 star movie anymore.  There are some beats in the film that just detract from the overall package, but I still think it’s a fine thriller, one where the director, F. Gary Gray, plays with the audiences sympathies and makes you question exactly who is good and bad.

F. Gary Gray took time out from making music videos and movies specifically targetting the black audience to direct this action / suspense / thriller. Sadly after directing this movie, he went on to underwhelm me with the Marky Mark Italian Job and the disappointing Be Cool, as well as some crappy Vin Diesel movie that I never had any desire to see. Now I’m not saying Gray is a middling director or anything like that, just that The Negotiator will probably end up being the best movie he ever made (Note: the only new feature he’s released since Be Cool was the alright Law Abiding Citizen).

Gray is certainly responsible for crafting a masterfully suspenseful police movie, but I probably never would have come across this movie if it weren’t for the two stars of it. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Danny Roman, a hostage negotiator for the Chicago police force, ironicly forced to take hostages in an attempt to prove his innocence after being accused of corruption and murder. Kevin Spacey is Chris Sabian, a negotiator from a different district that Roman requests be brought in to help prove his innocence. Problem is, Sabian’s so damned good at his job that he doesn’t care about the accusations leveled at Roman, he just wants to get the hostages out, alive and well.

The supporting cast is absolutely fantastic, featuring late greats J.T. Walsh and John Spencer, as well as familiar character actor faces like Ron Rifkin, the underrated David Morse, and good ol’ Paul Giamatti, back when he seemingly couldn’t get roles that didn’t require him to be fucking annoying. Some of them are good cops, some are hostages, all do an excellent job with their performances, hitting all the right notes. These are veteran actors and they know exactly what they’re doing, and Gray looks even better as a director thanks to them.

It says a lot for the writing team of James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox, when you’re actually wondering how everything’s going to turn out in the end. The entire premise of the movie has to be given away in the trailers, there’s no big surprises there, and that’s the nature of the beast. Throughout the rest of the movie there are plot twists and revelations that consistently keep you on the edge of your seat, leaving you wondering if there’s going to be a happy ending for Danny Roman after all.

There’s a lot to love about The Negotiator, but the chemistry between Spacey and Jackson is easily number one on my list. Their line deliveries, how they seem to be savouring every syllable, and still making their characters seem real and believable, is truly awe-inspiring and surprising in a movie that many might dismiss beforehand as a cookie cutter police procedural. Truly an excellent movie, and it makes me miss watching Kevin Spacey movies, though I don’t know if I’ll be able to buy him as Lex Luthor in the new Superman flick (Note: he was believable enough, but the movie absolutely sucked).

4.5 / 5