20 Movies 20 Years Later

A Scandalous Crime Drama Explores A Code Of Honor That Goes Well Beyond Good Cop, Bad Cop

"L.A. Confidential" turns 20 this year.

20 Movies 20 Years Later remembers and explores the films that touched us back then and still resonate today. Join A Plus as we rewatch movies released in 1997 and celebrate their contributions to pop culture.

Los Angeles may be the  City of Angels, and captivate by being home to some of the most beautiful and talented individuals on Earth. But one thing we don't always see or understand are the criminals who walk its streets — some who may hide behind the curtain of allure, others who hide behind a badge.

L.A. Confidential — loosely based off the 1990 neo-noir book written by James Ellroy — tells the story of the city that has a million mysteries through the journey of three police officers who, despite all working for the Los Angeles Police Department, have different obsessions and intentions, and different codes of honor.

Det. Jack Vincennes, played by Kevin Spacey, for instance, has a wild fascination with celebrities, which often interferes with his work, especially when he accepts a paid TV gig (and bribes from tabloids and photographers for scandalous scoops on some of Tinseltown's biggest stars). Bud White — played by Russell Crowe — is a forceful, almost thug-like young cop, while Ed Exley, who is brought to life by Guy Pearce, does everything by the book.

Though early scenes in the film feel more like an anthology, the importance of the characters and their intertwining stories soon converge as the film navigates Los Angeles of the 1950s, and the developing, blurred line between celebrities who run the city and the law enforcement protecting them — perhaps best represented in some of the dealings of Hush-Hush, a fictional tabloid run by Danny DeVito's Sid Hudgens, and the ever-changing "good cop, bad cop" distinctions of the film's main protagonists.

With a string of violence, gang-like executions, midnight massacres, and more threatening to unravel L.A., the plot only thickens with the introduction of Lynn Bracken, an aspiring actress-turned-call girl who has the looks of Veronica Lake, but none of the surgery some of the other women at her brothel don to look like Hollywood starlets. Bracken strikes up a doomed (or not) romance with Crowe's White, and, at times, symbolizes many a dream lost in L.A., though Basinger would not suffer the same fate, winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn in the role.

To break up the cop drama seriousness and the grittiness of the underworld, scenes are cut with quick banter and a deeper dive than most crime films into the psyche of the characters, revealing motives that seem to make the characters more human than the archetypes that they play in this multi-act arc. Even if you're having trouble following the mystery, at least you'll be entertained and intrigued along the way, and will be set up nicely for big reveals and a few head-scratching moments as the film comes to a close.

Roger Ebert gave L.A. Confidential a four-star review and said, "L.A. Confidential is seductive and beautiful, cynical and twisted, and one of the best films of the year," but perhaps a commenter best summed up the synopsis of the film: "… It's a western set in urbanized L.A. It's got all of the elements of a classic western with, of course, the hooker with the heart of gold, OK, make that golden hair, but definitely a tough cookie; the by-the-book lawman; the gunfighter; and the gambler. Westerns are always about honor and honor is at the heart of L.A. Confidential."

Regardless of who said it best, that struggle with integrity leads to tense moments of bending rules and moral codes that make for one roller coaster of a ride.

L.A. Confidential is available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and Netflix.

Cover image: Warner Bros. Pictures

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