My Alternative Xmas Movie Advent Calendar – Dec. 21st: L.A. Confidential (1997)

From one Hollywood-noir Christmas detective story to another, L.A. Confidential also marks the second appearance on the list for Kevin Spacey and the third for Danny DeVito. 

Directed by Curtis Hanson

Screenplay by Curtis Hanson & Brian Helgeland 

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crow, Guy Pearce, and Kim Basinger

Police corruption abounds in Los Angeles in 1952. A multiple-homicide involving a fellow cop at Christmastime forces three detectives, with very different styles, to work together in order to unravel the mystery. There’s a lot more to it than that, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen it and those are the basics. 

Director Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland adapted the screenplay from a Jame Elroy novel and Hanson did a brilliant job capturing a wide variety of narrative angles. There’s a reason this movie won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The character all have very distinct personalities, so there’s always this oil-and-water vibe between the cops working the case together. Plus, the way the murder investigation gets folded into the scene of LA in the 50s takes full advantage of period nostalgia. Where Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a light-hearted dive into the Hollywood scene, this movie takes a much more rugged and serious approach.

It’s tough to pick a standout role from the bunch, but this movie really put Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe on the map. This was a few years before Gladiator but Crowe’s portrayal of Bud White showed brooding and savage intensity grounded by a moral compass. This was also before Pearce would team with Christopher Nolan on Memento. His character Ed Exley wants to be the clean-cut super cop but, naturally, he’s got some skeleton’s in the closet. Plus, his dedication to his image put him at odds with other cops and Pearce walks the line wonderfully. Kevin Spacey was at the height of his career when this movie came out so he slid right into the role of Jack Vincennes who’s blurring police work and celebrity. 

Despite all those guys giving great performances, Kim Basinger’s performance as, Lynn Bracken, a high-priced celebrity-look-alike prostitute often steals the show. She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her efforts and she is the thread that ties several individual narratives together. 

If you like detective stories, it doesn’t matter what time of year, this is a great movie. You can stream L.A. Confidential on Amazon Prime Video and IMDB TV or rent it through video-on-demand. 

Happy Holidays, from Tinseltown!

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