(director/writer: Curtis Hanson; screenwriter: Brian Helgeland; cinematographer: Dante Spinotti; editor: Peter Honess; cast: Kevin Spacey (Jack Vincennes), Russell Crowe (Bud White), Guy Pearce (Ed Exley), Kim Basinger (Lynn Bracken), Danny DeVito (Sid Hudgeons), James Cromwell (Dudley Smith), David Strathairn (Pierce Patchett); Runtime: 138; Regency Enterprises / Warner Brothers; 1997)
“The feel of the movie is of nostalgia for the Hollywood glamorous life of that period.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A 1950s history of sleazy Hollywood and of corrupt cops and crime bosses running the city is gone over with a fine eye for detail in this stylized, Technicolor, neo-noir film. It also depicts the popular scandal magazine of that era, Confidential Magazine (but called in the movie, Hush-Hush). This film will evoke memories of films such as Chinatown and The Bad and the Beautiful and of the starlets of that era, Lana Turner, Veronica Lake, and Rita Hayworth. The feel is of nostalgia for the Hollywood glamorous life of that period, at least, it presents what we are led to believe is glamorous. Meanwhile the paparazzi click their cameras at the stars and work covertly with the cops, hoping to catch a Hollywood figure with narcotics, or in bed with someone whom they shouldn’t be with, or get the goods on some Commies. Crime and violence and corruption run amok in the city, but the police use the media to project their police department as the best in the country.
There are so many wonderful performances that it is difficult to say which one is the best but the Russell Crowe, dumb tough-guy, muscle-man cop, takes the cake as far as I am concerned. It gives the film the raw energy and viewpoint it wants to get across. He believes whole-heartedly in what he is doing, beating confessions out of those accused of crimes and working over others to get information. Though he is a regular Mr. Softee for women, and is particularly rough on women-beaters. He explains how he was influenced to become a cop, thinking he could do some good for society, after watching his dad beat on his mom. Kim is the whore, made to look like Veronica Lake, working for a millionaire (Strathairn). He sets her up with johns who like doing it with some one who resembles a famous star. Kim falls for Crowe and, believe it or not, these are the two most virtuous ones in this flick.
The main plot involves a stick-up in the Night Owl diner where six people are slain, including an ex-cop. It soon becomes apparent, after the arrest and shooting of the three Negroes framed for the job, that something big is happening and it is more than the ordinary crime it first appeared to be. The politically opportunistic Pearce uses this opportunity to become a hero by arresting the Negroes, then shooting them when they escape. He gets his promotion to homicide lieutenant, and stiffly grins through his clenched shiny teeth. He is hated by the men in the department for breaking the cops “code of silence.” But he doesn’t care, he is both ambitious and eager to do his job the right way. He wants to emulate his dad who was a hero detective, killed in the line of duty.
Kevin Spacey plays Jack Vincennes, a role he plays with great relish. He is the technical adviser to the detective TV series, Badge of Honor, which is a take-off on the real TV show of the ’50s, Dragnet. He works secretly with the sleazy DeVito character, who is the edgy journalist of Hush-Hush magazine. Spacey gets money from Devito and credits for the arrests, while DeVito scoops the other publications with these hot pictures and stories.
Cromwell is deceptively engaging as the police chief with a heavy Irish accent and with the demeanor of a politically connected cop, who could look you straight in the eye and make you feel as if you were talking to someone who has the goods on you. His role in the film is crucial for our understanding of the underlying sentiment of how the L.A. police force has relished its role as savior for the citizenry, even if it has to defy what the book says is the right way to conduct a criminal investigation.
The film is long, but it moves at a very brisk pace covering a multitude of sub-plots. Supposedly, the would-be lesson to be learned is that the only thing that works in solving crimes, is the use of strong-arm tactics against the suspects and gangsters you need info from.
A good question to ask is, Why the three joined the force in the first place? This is answered differently by each: Pearce is the new kind of media image cop and is out for himself; Crowe is the old-style of cop, we don’t talk to outsiders type; and, Spacey is the one who has forgotten why he joined the force. What was made to seem impossible to picture, was an honest cop who is good at his job and gets promoted legitimately without political influence.
Maybe the filmmakers are right in their slick attitude, or maybe this film is just pure entertainment. But the film loaded the deck for any other argument and that is what deters me from praising this film to the heavens even if it is an exceptionally well-made, cynically humorous, and terrifically acted picture; but, it might not be as great as it appears, since its subliminal message is that you can’t change the system.
REVIEWED ON 11/10/98 GRADE: B+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/