L.A. Confidential (1997)Hush-Hush

What is a good cop? One who joined the police force because he was unable to save his mother from being killed by an abusive husband, but who now uses violence not only against wife-beaters but whenever called for by his superior officers; be it to beat a confession out of a suspect or to discourage criminals from settling in town? Or one who joined the police force to emulate his father, a department legend; to go after “Rollo Tommasi” (the guy who thinks he can get away with anything), but who thereafter lets his career and department politics dictate his actions? Or, in the end, is it the one who has let corruption wipe out so thoroughly the reasons why he once joined the police force that he doesn’t even remember a single one of them, but who for once in his life still finds it in himself to go after real criminals, even at the risk of his own life? This is just one, although maybe the central question asked in L.A. Confidential, the movie based on James Ellroy‘s novel with the same name. And as does the book, the movie refuses to provide an answer to this and the other questions it asks.

The story is set up by tabloid editor Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), who during the movie’s opening credits gleefully sums up the L.A. clichés that still hold true today: “Come to Los Angeles! The sun shines bright, the beaches are wide and inviting, … there are jobs aplenty, and land is cheap. Every working man can have his own house, and inside the house a happy, all American family. You can have all this, and who knows, you can even be discovered – become a movie star or at least, singer. Life is good in Los Angeles: it’s paradise on earth.” Laughing sarcastically, however, he adds: “That’s what they tell ya’, anyway, ’cause they’re selling an image. They’re selling it through movies, radio, and television.” Then Hudgens proceeds to tell the story of crime boss Mickey C.’s arrest, which left the void in the City of Angels’s organized crime scene that sets the stage for this movie’s story, and concludes with his tabloid’s tag line: “Remember, dear readers, you heard it here first: Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush …”

And as indicated in these opening lines, nothing is as it seems in this 1950s’ version of a Los Angeles populated by hookers cut to look like movie stars and cops with more or less disreputable alternative sources of income. As the story progresses, its three heroes – career-driven and pseudo-correct Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), tough-fisted and golden-hearted Wendell “Bud” White (Russell Crowe) and nonchalant, corrupt “celebrity crime stopper” Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) – become unlikely allies in their search for their city’s most elusive commodity: the truth. Shades of gray abound, and even the end, which (unlike the novel’s) has at least some redeeming aspects, is not a happy ending by a long shot.

Just when many people longingly remembered the days of The Maltese FalconThe Big Sleep or, for that matter, Chinatown, proclaimed “they don’t make ’em like that anymore,” and were ready to announce the death of the noir genre, along came a group of new directors and screenwriters and breathed new life into patient. The Usual Suspects (which not coincidentally likewise stars Kevin Spacey) is one excellent example, this one is another. Unlike other noir stories’, this tale’s heroes are no private detectives; but all the classic elements of a film noir are there, from a damsel in distress (Veronica Lake-look-alike hooker Lynn Bracken, award-winningly portrayed by Kim Basinger) to crime, corruption and abuse of power, and to dimmed lights and hard boiled dialogue with many memorable one-liners. In a year overshadowed by the success of the vastly overrated Titanic, L.A. Confidential managed to at least collect the Academy Awards in the best supporting actress and best adapted screenplay categories (Kim Basinger and Brian Helgeland/Curtis Hanson, respectively; the movie had also been nominated in the best picture, best director – again Curtis Hanson –, best original score – Jerry Goldsmith –, best cinematography, best art direction and best editing categories). And while the 1990s have seen a revival of the noir genre, this one is a standout even among the new films noirs which that decade has brought us. It made the careers of its writers, director and two of its stars (Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe), and boosted those of several others of its cast members (Kim Basinger and Kevin Spacey, to name just two). I am sure it will find its eternal place in the annals of Hollywood, alongside its famous predecessors. There are way too few movies like this these days – if you haven’t seen it already, do yourself a favor and remedy that soon. This is modern noir at its finest.


Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Warner Bros. (1997)
  • Director: Curtis Hanson
  • Executive Producer: Dan Kolsrud
  • Producer: Curtis Hanson
  • Co-Producer: Brian Helgeland
  • Screenplay: Brian Helgeland & Curtis Hanson
  • Based on a novel by: James Ellroy
  • Music: Jerry Goldsmith
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Dante Spinotti
  • Editing: Peter Honess
  • Art Direction: William (Bill) Arnold
  • Sound: Terry Rodman / Roland N. Thai / Kirk Francis / Andy Nelson / Anna Behlmer / John Leveque
  • Kevin Spacey: Jack Vincennes
  • Russell Crowe: Bud White
  • Guy Pearce: Ed Exley
  • Kim Basinger: Lynn Bracken
  • Danny DeVito: Sid Hudgens
  • James Cromwell: Dudley Smith
  • David Strathairn: Pierce Patchett
  • Ron Rifkin: D.A. Ellis Loew
  • Matt McCoy: ‘Badge of Honor’ Star Brett Chase
  • Paul Guilfoyle: Mickey Cohen
  • Paolo Seganti: Johnny Stompanato
  • Graham Beckel: Dick Stensland
  • Amber Smith: Susan Lefferts
  • Darrell Sandeen: Buzz Meeks


Major Awards

Academy Awards (1998)
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Kim Basinger
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson
Golden Globe Awards
(Hollywood Foreign Press Association) (1998)
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture: Kim Basinger
National Board of Review Awards (1997)
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director: Curtis Hanson
Writers Guild of America Awards (1998)
  • Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published: Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson
Screen Actors Guild Awards (1998)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role: Kim Basinger
    Tied with Gloria Stuart (“Titanic ,” 1997).
National Society of Film Critics AWARDS (USA) (1997)
  • Best Film
  • Best Director: Curtis Hanson
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards (1997)
  • Best Film
New York Film Critics Circle AWARDS (1997)
  • Best Film
  • Best Director: Curtis Hanson
  • Best Screenplay: Curtis Hanson & Brian Helgeland
TIME Magazine (USA) (1997)
  • Best Film of the Year
Los Angeles Times (2008)
  • Best L.A. Film of the Last 25 Years
Society of Texas Film Critics Awards (1997)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Kevin Spacey
    – Also for “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”.
Edgar (Allan Poe) Awards (1998)
  • Best Motion Picture: Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland
BAFTA Awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) (1998)
  • BAFTA Film Awards: Best Editing: Peter Honess
  • BAFTA Film Awards: Best Sound: Terry Rodman, Roland N. Thai, Kirk Francis, Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer and John Leveque
  • Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music: Jerry Goldsmith
London Film Critics’ Circle (2009)
  • Top 10 Films of the Last 30 Years: No. 7




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