La Confidential Film Noir Essays

Film noir is a retrospective cinematic term referring to a collective era of stylish Hollywood crime dramas. Prominent in the 1940s through 1950s, its films emphasized cynicism and sexuality, frequently flipping popular conventions of gender and masculinity. Women are often portrayed as cunning and intelligent characters designed to work over the males in sexually-motivated manners. These typically low-budget stories told hardboiled crime fiction tales that reflected the post-Depression, wartime and postwar sentiments of society.

Stylistically, noir films are associated with low-key black and white visuals that spawned from the cinematography of German Expressionism, despite the term’s French name (meaning “black film”). The dark stocks lowered production costs but also established the conventions of lighting, sound, and composition that defined the genre. Jump forward to modern filmmaking and we find the term neo-noir referring to a similar brand of crime drama with modernized themes, content, and visual style not possible in the original noir era. One of the most prominent and well-received examples of the neo-noir style is L.A. Confidential (1997). The film is more than just an homage to a former era of filmmaking -- it’s evidence that the relevancy of the style still influences filmmaking decades later.

Corruption and deceit are two of noir’s most common themes, and L.A. Confidential is brimming with both. For the bulk of the picture, there isn’t a clear antagonist. Every player has the possibility of suddenly emerging as the foe; and of course, one eventually does. For the majority of the labyrinthine story, all the major characters appear to be on the same side as they investigate seemingly segregated and wild plot points that suggest irrelevant and unrelated origins. Yet right around the time the film uncovers its sinister masterminds, it also manages to connect all the dots and pick up the breadcrumbs it had been leaving behind. As The New York Times wrote in their 1997 review, the film is a “vigorously surprising tale that qualifies as true mystery rather than arbitrary thriller and that revels in its endless complications.”

This twisted crime mystery is ripe with double-crosses, cover-ups, shady dealings, crooked cops, and bad blood -- exactly the stuff noir is made of. Voice-over narration guiding us through these shifts is popular, too. L.A. Confidential doesn’t exactly have one, but it plays with the idea using Danny DeVito’s character Sid Hudgens, a writer for the local Confidential stand-in gossip publication Hush Hush.

Roger Ebert writes, “L.A. Confidential is described as film noir, and so it is, but it is more: Unusually for a crime film, it deals with the psychology of the characters, for example in the interplay between the two men who are both in love with Basinger's hooker. It contains all the elements of police action, but in a sharply clipped, more economical style; the action exists not for itself but to provide an arena for the personalities. The dialogue is lovely; not the semiparody of a lot of film noir, but the words of serious people trying to reveal or conceal themselves. And when all of the threads are pulled together at the end, you really have to marvel at the way there was a plot after all, and it all makes sense, and it was all right there waiting for someone to discover it.”

Noir is typically the tale of a loner. Bogart’s Sam Spade captured it well in The Maltese Falcon (1941), and the cops in L.A. Confidential are hardly social animals. Though they operate as part of a police force and not a one-man PD agency, they all come with a sense of distance -- from each other, from the group, and often from themselves. Each has their own inner problem: Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is smart but immoral, Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is obsessively “by the book” and lives in the shadow of his cop father, and White (Russell Crowe) is angry and vengeful, with a desire to help women in distress that clearly overcompensates for something in his past. (Here, the voluptuous and commanding Kim Basinger serves as the ambiguously trustworthy Lynn Bracken, the axis upon which many of the film’s men pivot. ) The Los Angeles setting amplifies the loner theme with its informality. Those who aren’t somebody in Hollywood are nobody, and with a cast of actors who (in 1997) were all unknown faces, L.A. Confidential is a film full of nobodies.

Director Curtis Hanson spends plenty of time in the daylight, but when things go dark, he truly opens the noir playbook and puts shadows and lighting to use. Noir is an existential genre that plays on the emotions of its hero/antiheroes. It forces them into desperate situations or nihilistic moral systems. When Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) asks Ed Exley if he “would be willing to shoot hardened criminals in the back to offset the chance--” he’s setting up themes as well as foreshadowing plot. There is a sense of uneasiness in the nighttime, and the majority of the film’s harder emotional moments take place in the shadows. When those classic prison bar shadows make their entrance in the film, it stands as a beautiful combination of old and new filmmaking.

The dark dialogue throughout the film is terse and pithy. Captain Smith spouts some of the film’s most memorable lines, such as “Go back to Jersey, sonny. This is the City of the Angels, and you haven't got any wings,” and “Don't start trying to do the right thing, boy-o. You haven't the practice.”

The “honorable” police force in L.A. Confidential mocks its true corruptive nature. Noir movies traditionally create an image that obstructs reality. The image of the LAPD in L.A. Confidential is further managed by their involvement with the Dragnet-style show Badge of Honor, for which Jack Vincennes  serves as technical advisor. The show, as corrupt as the LAPD itself, maintains the image of the real police force through fictional programming. It’s a clever design of obstructing reality within a greater obstruction.

L.A. Confidential builds upon the genre that birthed its type of storytelling and puts a modern spin on the material. It’s overly-complicated, excessively violent, undeniably nihilistic, and rooted in the traditions of film noir.

Just wondering if someone could review my essay.

Jacob Kelman 4/2/10
P. 1 La Bonne
In the name of Justice
L.A. Confidential, a film noir directed by Curtis Hanson in 1997, depicts the corruption in Los Angeles of 1953. Hollywood, a world of glamour, deceit and desire is portrayed as a false utopian society where illusion dominates the headlines. The city is governed by corrupt politicians and police who control the activities of the city for their own personal greed. People come to Hollywood to fulfill their dreams but on the way their ambition is derailed in a web of illegal activity and treachery. In L.A. Confidential, the cops, sworn to uphold the law, loose sight of their vision but ultimately seek redemption in their search for the truth.

The film has an ominous tone, where police corruption is evident in all of the characters. In the Nite Owl Massacre, three very different not-yet-hero cops are brought together in the investigation, where their fates are intertwined. The three protagonists all have different personalities with unique motivations, but as they search for the clues of the massacre, their investigations begin to overlap until it becomes clear that each is after the same thing; the search for a "truth" and in the process they will face their own evils and seek atonement.

Bud White (Russell Crowe) is a man prone to violence and quick to protect a battered woman in the eyes of justice. This is a valiant and impressive trait, however at times he takes the law into his own hands, as shown in the scene where he brutally kills a black man. In his own mind, he did what he believed was just, although it also placed him above justice. Bud entered the police force with good intentions to protect those, like his mother, who were brutally killed in the hands of his father. We see a man with good intent but also known as a thug, whose opportunity for redemption comes when his circumstances change. Initially he vows revenge against Sergeant Edmund Exley after his partner is dismissed from the Los Angeles Police Department but during the Nite Owl Massacre investigation, when deep indication of corruption is revealed, Bud takes control and helps in the final shoot down of Captain Dudley Smith.

Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a cop quick to accept bribes, working closely with the celebrity magazine editor of Hush Hush magazine, Sid Hudgens (Danny Devito). A policeman, who has a comfortable spot on the Narcotics squad, has forgotten why he entered the police force. Jack enjoys the glitz and glamour of L.A. and Hollywood immorality, holding little loyalty to justice and assisting the tabloids for kick back money. However, we witness a shift in his conscience, once he realizes that he may have been the cause of the death of a young gay actor. At that point he works diligently to bring justice and confront the corruption of the L.A. police force. Ultimately he unravels a long trail of deceit and corruption dying in the line of duty as a hero.

A third and very different cop is Ed Exley, (Guy Pearce) who seeks justice by abiding by the law. The golden boy of the police force turns his back on his fellow cops who are corrupt, ignoring the "brotherhood" and loyalty of the L.A. cops. Rather, in his naivety he is willing to do anything for justice and more importantly for his own personal power. He attempts to remain true to the law although he also takes justice in his own hands when he shoots the chief of detectives (James Cromwell) rather than turning him in. Ed, like the two other protagonists, faces his own ghosts becoming heroic only once he became part of the team. His actions may not have always been valiant but taking responsibility for his actions and working with the team not only provided redemption but places him as a hero in the L.A. police department

L.A. Confidential, a dark and twisted tale of corruption in the backdrop of Hollywood's lights, presents characters that face their own evil and seek atonement. The police force of Los Angeles reflects the troubled time of the 1950s Hollywood society where many comprise their morals in pursuit of their own personal objectives. The three protagonists are initially not heroes, but rather abuse women, take bribes and seek power. However, they are seen as L.A.'s finest-sworn to uphold the law and all three of them seek redemption bringing justice to Los Angeles.

When you add an extra phrase like this, it needs a comma on each side:
Hollywood, a world of glamour, deceit and desire, is portrayed...

lose

very different not-yet-heroic cops are...

In his own mind, what he did was just, although it ...
(to say "in his own mind" is the same as saying "he believed")

Look at these topic sentences:
Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a cop quick to accept bribes, working closely with the celebrity magazine editor of Hush Hush magazine, Sid Hudgens (Danny Devito).

A third and very different cop is Ed Exley, (Guy Pearce) who seeks justice by abiding by the law.

The topic sentences could be better if they related more strongly to the thesis statement. Right now the thesis seems to be "In L.A. Confidential, the cops, sworn to uphold the law, lose sight of their vision but ultimately seek redemption in their search for the truth." So, if you use some of those key words it will help. For example,

Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), having lost his vision of upholding the law, is quick to accept bribes...

:-)

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