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Men in Blue: Slick Film Goes Behind Closed Doors

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL Directed by Curtis Hanson Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell

By Nicolas R. Rapold, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

You know "L.A. Confidential" has ended, when it is both daytime and not raining.

In a fine version of the somewhat beefy Ellroy crime novel, director Curtis Hanson portrays the cool, brutal world of Hollywood glam and corrupt police in 50s Los Angeles, with all its gradations of questionable ethics and morality.

A good hour into the movie, you suddenly realize that people are creeping from one closed space to the next, from the Christmastime police beatings in prison cells onward. Into such a world populated by officers who would just as soon as bury a broken bottle in your neck as arrest you, Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) enters, a fresh-scrubbed "golden boy" with an absolute commitment to good. Exley is a little uncomfortable with the corner-cutting approach of the police chief Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), who dispenses tips on life with a thin smile that promises something violently wrong is happening somewhere. Smith would seem more satisfied with Bud White (Russell Crowe), a plodding tough guy who thinks slow but does think.

Of course, this is all but one side of the police force-the inside. To the rest of L.A., as portrayed in the tell-all rag penned by the repulsive Sid Hudgeons (an irritating-as-heck Danny DeVito), the police force is personified by the slick shining example of sartorial splendor, Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey). With busts carefully engineered through planted drugs or hommes fatales, Vincennes and Hudgeons put on a show for the public that leaves the face of the L.A. police indistinguishable from the ruthlessly just, squeakyclean "Dragnet"-type TV program Vincennes advises.

It's engrossing enough to watch this twoheaded beast of a police force at work, which is what Hanson lets us do for a bit, before the appropriately twisty plot really gets under way. The story itself is impeccably paced, a well-orchestrated series of cover-ups and discoveries, as Exley skillfully and stubbornly cuts his way through the many layers of the blue shield and those who profit by it (like a man who runs a service of call girls cut to resemble movie starlets). Surprises and not so teensy-weensy ethical decisions are sprinkled throughout as we wonder whether Exley will fall into the warm goo of complicity with the rest of' em.

But what separates the movie from any other white-knight special is the palpable, big-screen reality of the characters: that is, while we know they're all blown up or simplified as necessary, we still can't wait to watch what happens when the upright Exley locks horns with Smith or goes to talk with prettyboy Vincennes whom we've up to then only known from more public appearances. People make mistakes or people shock us with coldly inhuman decisions, but things never subside into a predictable formula.

Hanson shoots L.A. as a land of shadows, borrowing judiciously from film noir past and present, whether through atmosphere or little tricks like light beams through bullet holes in a door a la "Blood Simple." Fortunately, unlike distant cousins like "The Usual Suspects" (which tortures us with things like cross-fades from coffee cups to cave mouths), it's all very bearable and, more importantly, very enjoyable.

Pearce and Crowe turn in fine performances that give us two different approaches to policing, thinking first and hitting later, or vice versa. When the two come to blows, we get the momentarily epic, clash-of-the-titans feel that gives the movie transcendence. Cromwell's Smith is reptilian and evil, his zingers imbued with a wry voice of experience ("Don't now try being good, lad. You haven't the practice.") The over-billed Kevin Spacey does his usual slick act, but well. Kim Basinger, as a call girl supposed to resemble Veronica Lake, holds her own although she occasionally looks a little bored with her character (or maybe that was me).

Danny DeVito is annoying. I won't withhold the good news that his character dies over the course of the film-because you might be wondering whether or not he does-and advance notice of happy occurrences makes life a little sweeter.

Hanson has translated Ellroy's hyped, dirty-real crime writing (some chapters consist of fictional headlines and news clippings) into a solid flick even a little sleeker than the original. Where the gritty could have turned grating, the dark places of "L.A. Confidential" hold up.Photo courtesy of Regency EntertainmentQUITE THE MORAL GUY: Ed Exley (GUY PEARCE) takes his search for crime off the street and into his own department.

Danny DeVito is annoying. I won't withhold the good news that his character dies over the course of the film-because you might be wondering whether or not he does-and advance notice of happy occurrences makes life a little sweeter.

Hanson has translated Ellroy's hyped, dirty-real crime writing (some chapters consist of fictional headlines and news clippings) into a solid flick even a little sleeker than the original. Where the gritty could have turned grating, the dark places of "L.A. Confidential" hold up.Photo courtesy of Regency EntertainmentQUITE THE MORAL GUY: Ed Exley (GUY PEARCE) takes his search for crime off the street and into his own department.

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