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L.A. Confidential

Everything is suspect... Everyone is for sale... And nothing is what it seems. 

Year: 1997 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 18 Cert – Not suitable for under 18s 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by Curtis Hanson 
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger, Guy Pearce  
An image from L.A. Confidential

A twisting tale of corruption, sex and murder in 1950s Los Angeles, L.A. Confidential follows three cops; the straight laced Lieutenant Exley (Pearce), the brutal but effective Officer White (Crowe) and Sergeant Jack Vincennes (Spacey) who seems more interested in getting into Hollywood than solving crimes. Each has their own motives and vices leading us to often ask who the good guys really are. However, as their investigations proceed they are all slowly drawn together; are their cases truly separate or are they part of a far greater crime?

L.A. Confidential is regarded, alongside Chinatown, as one of the great neo-noir films. It was nominated for numerous Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. It went on to claim Oscars in two catagories including a well deserved win for Kim Basinger (Best Supporting Actress) in a career defining role as Lynn Bracken, a high class prostitute.

The acting throughout the film is outstanding with each of the three leads putting in some of their best performances. Also worth noting is a great performance by James Cromwell (The Artist, Star Trek: First Contact) as the intimidating Captain Dudley Smith who is tasked with keeping his officers in line.

Curtis Hanson, acting as both a writer and director, does well with this adaptation of James Ellroy's novel. With a very complicated plot it would be easy for the film to descend into confusion; it is to Hanson's credit that the audience is carried along throughout with the film never being difficult to follow but equally never feeling that it has been dumbed down.

With a compelling story and some great performances, L.A. Confidential is one of the best films of its decade and a master-class in how to make a great crime thriller.

George Marshall


Take strong performances, an involved story and period atmosphere, then throw in sex, violence, corruption and politics to make one hell of a crime drama. Then you have L.A. Confidential.

It’s the early ‘50s. Hopefuls flock to Los Angeles, the city selling an image. But there’s a seedy side to every story. L.A. Confidential follows three cops: strong-arm Bud White (Russell Crowe) has a weakness for helping the innocent; by-the-book Ed Exely (Guy Pearce) covets political authority; and scene-maker Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) enjoys notoriety as advisor to television show Badge of Honor, forgetting why he became a cop at all. The men are drawn inexorably and morally together during a crime investigation involving corpses, heroin, mobsters and prostitutes who look like movie stars.

Director Curtis Hanson (The River Wild, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle) co-wrote L.A. Confidential with Brian Helgeland, based on James Ellroy’s involved novel of the same name. Hanson loves to tell a story; it shows. You never know what will happen next. Character parts by Kim Basinger, James Cromwell and Ron Rifkin add extra kick to the casting cocktail, and Dante Spinotti’s cinematography (Heat) deftly captures the smoky mood.

L.A. Confidential has a gritty look to it, which Hanson uses to build a wonderfully dark atmosphere. But, unlike other movies which depend on atmosphere to carry them, L.A. Confidential outdoes them with its tight script, genuine acting, and atmosphere. The movie is filled with suspense and intelligence. You never know what will happen next, but you know it’s worth finding out.

Dom Mellor

After a seemingly senseless shotgun massacre at an all-night coffee shop in downtown Los Angeles, three of the LAPD’s finest are brought in to investigate: squeaky clean Ed Exley (Pearce), who encounters hostility at every turn as he strives to uphold the law, whatever the cost; hard man Bud White (Crowe), who believes in a different justice, the kind he delivers with his fists as he fulfils a neurotic obsession with avenging abused women while at the same time providing muscle for the sinister Captain Smith (James Cromwell); and hotshot detective Jack Vincennes (Spacey), who acts as technical advisor on the hit TV show Badge of Honour while taking kickbacks in return for setting up high-profile celebrity busts for sleazebag scandal-seeking publisher Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito).

This central trio of flawed but driven cops, each full of contempt and loathing for the others, begin a no-holds-barred investigation that penetrates LA’s glitzy facade and threatens to reveal a sleazy underbelly of political double-dealing, sex, drugs and police corruption. Slowly the pieces of the puzzle come together. Wealthy pimps offering whores that look like movie-stars, jailed crimeboss’s lieutenants executed gangland-style by mysterious gunmen, missing heroin involving former police officers.

Easily the best film of 1997 and one to watch out for at the Oscars. If you only see one film this term, make sure it’s LA Confidential. Nothing short of a modern classic.

Simon C. Williams

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Screenings of this film:

1997/1998 Spring Term (35mm)
1997/1998 Spring Term (35mm)
1997/1998 Spring Term (35mm)
1997/1998 Spring Term (35mm)
1999/2000 Spring Term (35mm)
2004/2005 Autumn Term (35mm)
2004/2005 Autumn Term (35mm)
2012/2013 Autumn Term (35mm)