‘L.A. Confidential’ gets a deluxe DVD release

Posted by · 10:06 am · September 19th, 2008

L.A. Confidential Special Edition DVDOne of the greatest experiences I have ever had at a Toronto festival was the North American premiere of Curtis Hanson’s “L.A. Confidential,” which was instantly declared a masterpiece and one of the great film noirs in movie history.

Dark and entertaining with a twisting and turning narrative that keep viewers guessing throughout, the film was embraced by the critical community in a huge way, topping most of the 10-best lists that year and winning best-of-the-year prizes from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle.

The film is receiving a shiny new DVD release this year and I couldn’t be more excited.  The package offers a slew of special features: commentaries from film critic Andrew Sarries, author James Ellroy , nearly the entire cast, director of photography Dante Spinotti and production designer Jeannine Oppewall; a new making-of documentary with updated interviews with the players; detailed examination of the look of the film; “From Book to Screen” with Hansen, Brian Helgeland and Ellroy; and a focus on the film’s ensemble.

As always the star of any re-issue is the film itself,  and “L.A. Confidential” remains one of the great films of the 1990s — a sublime work of art.

Superbly acted by Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kevin Spacey, Danny Devito, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger and Russell Crowe (in a star-making turn), the picture was a tight ensemble piece.  It fired on all cylinders: direction, cinematography, design elements, and a film score that effortlessly zapped us back to 1950s Los Angeles.

Kevin Spacey, two years after winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for “The Usual Suspects,” portrayed Jack Vincennes with a Dean Martin sort of cool, an honest cop who had sold his soul to television where he worked as an adviser on a popular series. Spacey was the anchor for the film, giving a marvelous performance that the other actors bounced off of nicely. His swift and shocking end remains one of the most startling moments I have witnessed in a film. I remember gasping out loud when the tables turned so quickly.

Watching the actors carve out their characters was fascinating.  Crowe was the hot tempered cop unable to let even the most casual insult go.  Pearce was the do-gooder who realizes that being an honest cop does not always mean making the right choices.  Spacey was the ultra cool gumshoe who re-discovers his true self. Cromwell was the ever-smiling epitome of ambiguity. Devito was the sleazy magazine editor looking for the hot story for his crummy rag.  And Basinger was a call girl from a small town trying to find some decency in her life.

Everyone was top notch.  This is what ensemble acting is about, and if ever there was an Oscar for cast performance, this would be a sure winner.

Though the reviews were clearly raves, “L.A. Confidential” was not a huge box office success. Come Oscar time, the film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger). In December, James Cameron’s “Titanic” was unleashed, quickly becoming the juggernaut to beat.

Cameron’s film won the lions share of Oscars — 11 all told — while Hanson’s greater achievement took just two (for the magnificent script from Hanson and Brian Helgeland and for Kim Basinger, who probably bested Gloria Stuart by the skin of her teeth).

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20 responses so far

  • 1 9-19-2008 at 10:35 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I remember going to see this in November of 1997, just kind of on a whim. It was around the time I was really getting into films back in high school and it totally floored me. My favorite film of the year was ultimately “Gattaca,” but “L.A. Confidential” is a close second.

    Some great features on the new DVD.

  • 2 9-19-2008 at 10:46 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    God, Kim Basinger beating Gloria Stuart was one of my happiest Oscar moments.

  • 3 9-19-2008 at 11:11 am

    Zac said...

    11 years later, L.A. Confidential remains my favorite movie from 1997. I’ve seen it about 25 times and it never gets old.

    I agree that Kevin Spacey’s end is one of the best I’ve seen, right up there with Leo DiCaprio’s in The Departed. Sorry for the spoiler, but it’s been 2 years and if you haven’t seen it, too bad.

  • 4 9-19-2008 at 11:52 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I still love this film very much. James Cromwell in particular, but singleing anyone out is not fair to the rest of the splendid cast. A magnificent film noir and never a moment of dullness or unneccessity. I still listen to Goldsmith’s score regularly. The opening track on the cd is one of the best tracks ever put on cd.

    I’ve also been concidering writing an essay on this film. It’s for an assignment where I’m supposed to analyse the film in it’s style, themes, narration etc. Anyone got some advice for that or pitfalls I should avoid with it? thanks in advance!

  • 5 9-19-2008 at 12:23 pm

    Casey said...

    my #6 film of the 90’s. I find that a lot of people connect with the Vincennes character easily. I tell my brother Joe that if there is a god, he based Joe on Jack Vincennes. I have to say tho, I find that not only do I more easily identify with Crowe and Pearce’s characters/performances, I find them to be a bit more integral to the story. I can never decide which is my “favorite” per se but I can tell you that either deserved an Oscar nomination and this film is exponentially more deserving of any praise than the anti-quality of film known as Titanic

  • 6 9-19-2008 at 12:25 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Jonathan: Manohla Dargis wrote an absolutely terrific little book on “LA Confidential” for the BFI Modern Classics series. It’s one of the best of that very fine range of books. Well worth reading for reference.

  • 7 9-19-2008 at 12:45 pm

    Kevin A. said...

    The greater achievement? Absolutely not. “Titanic” cannot be beaten in spectacle and absolute filmmaking wonderment. It completely deserved its wins. “L.A. Confidential” is great, but they really don’t compare. “Titanic” wins in a heartbeat.

    And Minnie Driver deserved to win Best Supporting Actress. Julianne Moore was second. THEN Basinger.

  • 8 9-19-2008 at 12:58 pm

    N8 said...

    I concur with Kevin A. that “Titanic” deserved most of the awards it won, but I guess I’m in a very small minority of people who actually thought “Good Will Hunting” was the best of 1997.

  • 9 9-19-2008 at 2:36 pm

    Isaac Richter said...

    Back in the 1998 Oscars, I was rooting for Titanic all the way, but I was 10 years old and it was the only nominee I had seen. I saw As Good as it Gets soon after, Good Will Hunting a few years later (absolutely loved it), and then, L.A. Confidential. The first time I saw it, I had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on. I got some of the main ideas, mystery had to be solved, three detectives, who was the bad guy, but there was so much I didn’t understand, and I had to see it about 5 times before I could grasp and start loving it, from the score, to the performances. Despite all the amazing performances Crowe has done since, Bud White is still my favorite performance of his (and to think nobody in this side of the pond knew him before this film). I also love Cromwell’s performance, mainly because I first saw him as Arthur Hogget, so from that to Dudley Smith, what a transformation. And now that I’m learning about Film Noir in college, I can appreciate this film so much for, I love it. I still really like Titanic, but L.A. Confidential should’ve won that year.
    I’ve also seen The Full Monty (the fifth nominee) and I have to say, this is one of my favorite Best Picture lineups ever, because they are all really great films (though L.A. Confidential is my favorite).

  • 10 9-19-2008 at 2:36 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Titanic deserved the following, IMO:

    Art Direction
    Costume Design
    Film Editing
    Sound Editing
    Sound Mixing
    Visual Effects

    It did not deserve:

    Picture (L.A. Confidential)
    Director (Curtis Hanson)
    Cinematography (L.A. Confidential)
    Song (Good Will Hunting)
    Score (L.A. Confidential — is there even an argument here?)

  • 11 9-19-2008 at 2:37 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    The films in parenthesis are obviously based on the actual nods. If I had my druthers otherwise, Gattaca, Boogie Nights and Wag the Dog would be all over the place.

  • 12 9-19-2008 at 2:55 pm

    John Foote said...

    Full agreement Kris — “Titanic” had stuning technical qualities, I would even go with cinematography, but “LA Confidential” deserved best picture and best director — “Titanic”‘s story ws all “Jack…Rose”….”Jack…Rose….” uuuuggggghhhhhh….the memory of the film “LA” i am speaking of is still very strong, while “Titanic” sadly, sinks with time (sorry)…

  • 13 9-19-2008 at 3:00 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’m surprised, Kris — I’d have given Art Direction to Gattaca.

    Actually, I’d have given Costume Design to The Wings of the Dove (some of Sandy Powell’s best work there) and Editing to LA Confidential.

    The sound awards and visual effects are all “Titanic” deserved IMO.

  • 14 9-19-2008 at 3:05 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Guy: They filmed Gattaca at the Marin County Civic Center, which looks futuristic as it is. It’s one of those ironic little gaffes of Oscar history. Jan Roelfs et al got credit for a look that was largely pre-existing, at least in the case of the most prominent setting in the film. So that figures in for me.

    There are other inspired elements of the set design, of course, but the level of craftsmanship that went into building a practical, sinkable ship in “Titanic” is hard for me to ignore.

    But while we’re on the topic of “Gattaca,” how did one of the greatest film scores of all time not get at least a MENTION that year. WTF?

  • 15 9-19-2008 at 3:23 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I think Titanic still deserved the big prize simply for being a grandiose film. The combination of Box Office and truly great spectacle was unbeatable. As Good As It Gets was my favorite back then as well (remember, I was still a freckly teen) but LA started growing on me ever since.

    Thanks for the advice btw Guy, I’ll check it out.

  • 16 9-19-2008 at 3:46 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Didn’t know that, Kris — how odd.

    As for the score, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe for the same inexplicable reason they snubbed Nyman four years previously for The Piano? Did he run over all the voters’ dogs or something?

    AND they ignored my own favourite score from that year — Mychael Danna’s for The Ice Storm. 1997 wasn’t exactly a banner year for the music branch, was it?

  • 17 9-19-2008 at 4:36 pm

    John Foote said...

    Jonathan…so if a film is big, with box office it deserves best picture?? “The Towering Inferno” should have won then, and ‘The Ten Commandments”, “Evita”, ‘the Robe”, “Samson and Delilah”…see where I am going here? “Titanic” was Hollywood patting itself on the back for pulling off a big old fashioned epic with bankrupting the studios which produced it — 11 Oscars was shameless, and the fact James Cameron has an Oscar, three of them, and Stanley Kubrick died without winning best director…need I say more??

  • 18 9-19-2008 at 6:32 pm

    BurmaShave said...

    Props for life for understanding how good GATTACA is.

  • 19 9-19-2008 at 11:10 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    John, there’s of course other examples and more injustice done by Oscar. But back then Oscar wasn’t ignoring big moneymakers that had everything movies are about. But it’s Box Office is incomparable and it’s popularity unseen since. It played for over a year in cinemas here. A year!

    And just for the record I like the film, it’s a spectacle, but it certainly has its flaws but can never help but be overwhelmed in the experience. And I did like other films more that year.

  • 20 9-20-2008 at 10:53 am

    John Foote said...

    I have never been a fan of “Titanic”…eer though it has a wonderful score (one of the great ones), some stunning visuals and some terrific images (the ghostly images of the ship transforming) — that said the script is terrible, the actors manage to elevate it, but it just was not very good — I was never moved, I was never sad, I was never feeling anything for any of the characters, and I felt something for the people in “Boogie Nights”, “The Sseet Hereafter”, ‘The Apostle” and “LA Confidential”…all films released in ’97.