Adapted from the novel by James Ellroy, Curtis Hanson's dark and moody "L.A. Confidential" is a top-notch thriller, an intricate tale of corruption, lust and betrayal that thematically recalls vintage film noir while stylistically coming closer to Roman Polanski's "Chinatown." That said, though, the movie has a voice of its own, distinguished in part by some imaginative casting.
Two Australian actors, Russell Crowe ("Rough Magic") and Guy Pearce ("The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert") are downright unrecognizable as police detectives in 1950s Los Angeles, trading witty barbs and clever retorts in perfect American accents. Crowe in particular exudes noir appeal; he's like a latter-day Robert Mitchum from "Out of the Past," all jaded cynicism and smoky secrets.
As the girl with a past, Kim Basinger looks radiant and has her best part in ages; she's a perfect femme fatale counterpart to Crowe's weary detective. Kevin Spacey, as an unctuous celebrity cop, does a memorable turn, as do James Cromwell ("Babe") as a seemingly wise police captain and Danny De Vito as an overzealous editor of a celebrity gossip rag (aptly dubbed "Hush-Hush"). Acting, dialogue and production values are all superb. What doesn't work so well, however, is the narrative. With a story so convoluted you don't know who's coming or going, it's hard to keep track of plot points; before you know it, in true noir style, just about everyone ends up dead. Would that we knew why. Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger. Directed by Curtis Hanson. Written by Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson. Produced by Arnon Milchan, Curtis Hanson and Michael Nathanson. A Warner Bros. release. Drama. Rated R for strong violence and language, and for sexuality. Running time: 135 min. Screened at Cannes