Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

My ten great movies #7: L.A. Confidential

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It’s a measure of how much Curtis Hanson’s movie has grown in my imagination that when it first came out, while writing for my high school newspaper, I ranked it fifth among the best films of 1997. (The movies that beat it out, if you’re curious, were Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, Lost Highway, Kundun, and Boogie Nights). Ever since, however, I’ve rewatched this film on at least an annual basis, to the point where it stands as a personal touchstone for me, both as a movie lover and as a writer. Looking back, I suspect that I underrated it at the time because it makes its own accomplishments—the juggling of three important narrative threads, the stylish but unobtrusive use of period detail, the narrative density, the amount of information conveyed with such style—seem so easy. But with the passage of time, and my own realization of how rare and difficult this sort of thing really is, L.A. Confidential starts to look like the best of all recent Hollywood movies.

Roger Ebert has called Bonnie and Clyde a “total movie,” a film capable of being appreciated by critics and audiences on every possible level, and L.A. Confidential is the closest thing to a total film released in my lifetime. On a surface level, of course, it’s hugely entertaining—I can’t think of another movie with so many classic sequences—and it’s a master class on adaptation and the filmmaker’s craft. The cast is as rich as that of The Godfather, but the character who lingers most in my memory is James Cromwell’s Dudley Smith, lanky, warm to his men, but with an underlying coldness to his eyes. His last, unforgettable exchange with Kevin Spacey is one of those moments, like the turning point ninety minutes into Vertigo, that I seem fated to revisit and rethink forever in my own work, but no other version of this scene can ever equal the power that it has here, which ends, perfectly, with the smile on a man’s face.

Tomorrow: The freshest, most timeless masterpiece of the forties.

Written by nevalalee

December 1, 2011 at 10:00 am

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