L.A. Confidential (UK - BD)
Chris Gould takes a look at the Curtis Hanson-directed neo-noir from 1997...
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1950s Los Angeles is the setting for this noir-ish mystery that sees three wildly disparate police officers come together to solve the case of the Nite Owl murders, in which several innocent civilians and one off-duty cop were ruthlessly gunned down at a coffee shop. The first, Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce), is an ambitious, incorruptible man with a strong sense of honour who is trying to live up to the legend of his father. The second, Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), is a slick and likeable cop who moonlights as the technical advisor for the Dragnet-esque TV series 'Badge of Honor' and isn't afraid of taking the odd bribe. The third is Bud White (Russell Crowe), a brutish man with violent tendencies and a particular dislike of wife-beaters, who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty in the pursuit of justice.
When White discovers that the slain cop was none other than his old partner Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel), his investigation eventually leads him to a high-class call-girl named Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), who bears a startling resemblance to Veronica Lake. Meanwhile, Vincennes is investigating 'Fleur-De-Lis', a prostitution ring that offers girls cosmetically altered to look like movie stars and with ties to socialite Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn). At the same time, Exley is conducting his own investigation into the murders and comes to the realisation that all is not as it seems. As their paths converge, the officers uncover a web of deceit and corruption at the highest levels of the Department that puts them at odds with Police Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell).
L.A. Confidential arrives at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (1080/24p VC-1) and looks pretty sensational for the majority of its two-hour plus running time. The opening scenes contain more grain than you'd see in a modern feature, but it is consistent with the original presentation of the film and things improve greatly after the first few minutes. Dante Spinotti's superb cinematography is made to look all the more impressive by the excellent colour rendition, which presents a very naturalistic palette that delivers particularly lifelike skin tones and bold colours that pop off of the screen. Detail levels are great, if not reference level, and the image is very clean throughout; certainly more so than the old DVD release. I didn't spot any particularly noteworthy print flaws and the image was similarly devoid of any digital artefacts (at least to my eyes). Black levels are solid enough for the most part, and preserve a fair amount of shadow detail in the darker scenes. All things considered this is a very film-like presentation of L.A. Confidential that is extremely pleasing to the eye.
For this release of L.A. Confidential, Warner delivers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that does an admiral job with the source material, even if it is unlikely to knock your socks off. The film is such a dialogue-driven affair that most of the action is confined to the front of the sound stage, which thankfully provides clear and balanced dialogue along with the occasional stereo effect. There's really not much use of the surround channels beyond filling out Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-nominated score, but there are one or two moments where discrete effects are used to lend ambiance (mostly rain) or enhance action scenes. This is best illustrated during the climatic showdown, during which time I thought I was listening to a different track! The LFE channel doesn't have a lot to do either, although it did briefly come to life during a thunder storm late in the film, and of course the aforementioned shoot-out. While it's not the most aggressive or dynamic track you'll ever hear, it is a solid representation of the source material and proof-positive that excellent soundtracks don't need explosions every five minutes.
Commentary by Critic/Historian Andrew Sarris, James Ellroy, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Ruth Myers, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Brian Helgeland, Jeannine Oppewall, Dante Spinotte, and Danny DeVito: This is what I like to refer to as a patchwork commentary, featuring as it does numerous participants recoded individually and then stitched together. It's not as free-flowing as a normal commentary track, but a lot of the information is actually pretty interesting and I learned quite a few things I didn't know about the film.
Whatever You Desire: Making L.A. Confidential (29:28 SD): The most lengthy featurette on the disc concerns the making of the film, and includes interview footage with the director, cast and crew. We learn all about the casting process and Warner Brothers' hesitancy to cast two Australian actors in the lead roles, and about the challenges of making the relatively small budget stretch further than it should. It's not as comprehensive as other featurettes of its kind, but it's not a bad for starters.
Sunlight and Shadow: The Visual Style of L.A. Confidential (21:02 SD): The second featurette deals with the look of L.A. Confidential and includes interview footage with director Hanson, author Ellroy, cinematographer Spinotti and others. As with most of the featuettes there's also plenty of on-set footage, which makes for interesting viewing. If you want to know all about the look of the film, this should be your first stop.
A True Ensemble: The Cast of L.A. Confidential (24:33 SD): This featurette deals with the casting process and includes interview footage with the director and all of the principal cast. It's actually quite a thorough piece, with some nice behind-the-scene footage and discussion about Hanson's desire to cast relative unknowns in the lead roles (one of whom was probably most famous for his work on an Aussie soap and for dressing up in drag for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert).
L.A. Confidential: From Book to Screen (21:07 SD): This features Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland, who oddly enough wrote the last film I reviewed ( Man on Fire) and who looks like Bud the zombie from Day of the Dead. They discuss their approach to adapting Ellroy's novel, and the author himself pops up from time to time to have his say.
Off the Record (18:46 SD): This featurette was originally included on the standard definition releases of the film from way back when. It includes interview footage with the director, screenwriter, author James Ellroy, the cast and provides a glimpse behind the scenes.
Photo Pitch (08:21 SD): This also adorned the old standard definition release of the film. It's basically a short featurette in which director Curtis Hanson shows us the photos he used to convince the financiers to back the movie.
L.A. Confidential (46:29 SD): This is a bit of an oddity. It's the 2000 television pilot for a series that never was, starring none other than Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Vincennes. It opens with a title card that says 'Early 1950's' (which really bugged me due to the superfluous apostrophe) over a distinctly non-fifties looking cityscape, and looks to have been sourced from video due to the low quality and numerous scratches. To be honest it's fairly easy to see why it wasn't picked up, as the casting is way off base and the production values leave a lot to be desired. It's probably worth watching for curiosity value alone though, and there's another Australian soap connection with the presence of Melissa George.
The L.A. of L.A. Confidential Interactive Map Tour: This is a novel little feature that was also present on the DVD release. It's basically a map of Los Angeles that highlights key locations from the film. When you click on any of the locations you're given a short description and details of how it ties into the plot.
Music Only Track: Pretty self-explanatory this one. Yep, this is Jerry Goldsmith's isolated score presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. It would have been nice to have it in lossless audio, but you can't have everything, can you?
Trailers: The trailers section actually includes four TV spots and the theatrical trailer, along with a promo spot for the soundtrack album. The TV spots actually do a remarkably bad job of conveying the tone of the film, and had I witnessed them at the time they would have caused me to make all manner of incorrect assumptions.
L.A. Confidential is a fantastic film that I discovered entirely by accident years after its initial release. I wouldn't normally class myself as a fan of this genre, but watching the convoluted plot unfold was a thoroughly engaging experience. It's been a long time since I last watched my DVD copy of the film, but this Blu-ray release is clearly superior in every conceivable way. It's lamentable that Warner has still not embraced high-definition bonus material for even their high-profile releases, but at least we have a technically competent audio-visual presentation, and for me that's the most important thing. If you're a fan then you simply must own this disc, but even if you've never seen L.A. Confidential I urge you to at least try a rental, as the film is well worth the effort.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
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Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 9th March 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1French, Dolby Digital 5.1 German, Dolby Digital 5.1 italian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 Latin Spanish 2.0
Subtitles: English, Brazilian Portuguese, Castilian Spanish, Complex Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Latin Spanish, Norwegian, Swedish
Extras: Audio Commentary, Whatever You Desire: Making L.A.Confidential, Sunlight and Shadow: The Visual Style of L.A.Confidential, A True Ensemble: The Cast of L.A.Confidential, L.A.Confidential: From Book to Screen, L.A.Confidential TV Series Pilot, Off the Record: Vintage Cast/Crew Interviews, Director Curtis Hanson's Photo Pitch, The L.A. of L.A. Confidential Interactive Map Tour, Music Only Track, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Curtis Hanson
Cast: Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, Paul Guilfoyle, Paolo Seganti, Graham Beckel
Genre: Crime, Film-Noir and Mystery
Length: 138 minutes