Saturday, 7 April 2012

Max Jewell's All-Time Number One Film

by Max Jewell


What it is that makes LA Confidential easily the greatest film ever made is indescribable. Despite having seen the film innumerable times, I am still unable to determine exactly what it is about Curtis Hanson’s film I find so endearing. Perhaps it’s the setting and period – the multitude of glittering and shimmering street lights that is LA in the 1950s; Hanson adroitly depicts the corrupted underbelly of the monstrous "City of the Angels". Yet didactic this film is not; in defending the city of Los Angeles Edmund Exely (Guy Pearce) becomes as corrupt as the corrupters. If it wasn’t so horribly over used and incorrectly quoted, Hanson could have made effective use (yet wisely chose not to) of the famous Nietzsche idiom, ‘He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster’.

Perhaps it’s the cinematography which makes LA Confidential so astounding. The concluding shot of the film, a battered Ed Exley standing over the body of the antagonist, his badge raised, as a multitude of police cars pour over the horizon is incredibly poignant. The film is gritty and intense, the sense of realism affirmed by Hanson’s decision to use only natural lighting. It could even be the film’s score; Hanson imbues the picture with period pieces, like Kay Starr’s much lauded Wheel of Fortune as well as contemporary pieces engendered by Jerry Goldsmith which perfectly complements the histrionics on screen.

The film opens by, ostensibly, eulogising the city of LA. Danny DeVito’s monologue represents the popularised, idealized, view of LA which is, after all, ‘the city with the best police force in the world’. Yet the film almost seems to begin with no plot, the notorious gangster Mickey Cohen, who one presumes initially is going to be the antagonist, is arrested, indicted and gaoled; however, the true villain's work begins only after Cohen is jailed. There quickly develops a complex plot  viewed, primarily, through the eyes of  three LA detectives, Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), Lieutenant Edmund Exely (Guy Pearce) and Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe). What emerges, therefore is a film that works on so many levels, viewers are able to revel in the power of the cinematography, the relationship between the characters and, the explosive conclusion. No one can call themselves a film buff unless they have viewed, and enjoyed, L.A Confidential.

See Max Jewell's other Top Ten film choices:

Numbers 2-5

Numbers 6-10

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