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Blu-Ray : Highly Recommended
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Release Date: September 23rd, 2008 Movie Release Year: 1997

L.A. Confidential

Overview -
Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Audio CD
Video Resolution/Codec:
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
Spanish (Castilian) Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
German SDH
Special Features:
CD Sampler
Release Date:
September 23rd, 2008

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


'L.A. Confidential' is the movie that taught me to never underestimate a filmmaker based only on his previous output. Given the right material to work from and enough passion, even an undistinguished journeyman director can be capable of turning out a masterpiece. For most of his career, Curtis Hanson was, let's face it, a hack. He'd worked since the early '80s as a hired-gun on profitable but unmemorable pictures like the early Tom Cruise sex comedy 'Losin' It' and the Rob Lowe comeback vehicle 'Bad Influence'. His biggest successes were the B-movie thrillers 'The Hand That Rocks the Cradle' and 'The River Wild'. 'Cradle' was an especially big (and unlikely) hit that gave Hanson enough cachet in Hollywood to spend a few years developing his dream project while nobody paid much attention. His labor of love took the form of a relatively low-budget period piece mystery with a couple of mostly-unknown actors from Australia in the leads. When released in 1997, it created a sensation.

Based on James Ellroy's acclaimed crime novel, 'L.A. Confidential' is the story of three '50s-era police detectives of very different backgrounds and dispositions. Bud White is the muscle, a hot-tempered brute inclined to rush into action first and think about the consequences later. Jack Vincennes is the showboat with Hollywood connections who understands how things really work in the city and isn't above taking a kickback here and there. Ed Exley is the straight-laced and ambitious idealist despised within the department for snitching on his fellow cops. Respectively, they are the id, ego, and super-ego of the Los Angeles Police Department. The three men have little in common and don't much care for one another. Their paths will intersect after a brutal massacre at the Nite Owl Café claims several victims, including a former cop they'd all worked with. Some black teens are railroaded to justice, the outcome of which doesn't quite sit right with any of the protagonists. As they dig deeper behind the scenes of the convenient story constructed around this event, they start to dredge up all manner of secrets involving drugs, prostitution, blackmail, and murder.

Through these three men, 'L.A. Confidential' is also the story of Los Angeles itself. Ellroy's novel presents the city as a living, breathing, writhing mass of contradictions -- a glitzy and glamorous façade masking a seedy underbelly of crime and corruption. The book is dense and sprawling, a genuine epic of America's darker tendencies. Hanson's film greatly streamlines the narrative, excising numerous subplots to hone in with precision focus on the essential elements of the story. The result is a perfect sort of adaptation, one true to the spirit and intentions of its source material but unafraid to make major changes to the sacred text in order to allow the film to develop and flourish as its own distinct piece of art.

The script (by Hanson and co-screenwriter Brian Helgeland) is brilliantly structured with what seems at first to be a complete beginning, middle, and end all before the half-way mark, at which point the film spins off on a major plot shift and builds an even more compelling three-act arc. There's not a wasted moment or line of dialogue in the whole thing. At almost 2 1/2 hours in length, the picture moves like lightning. Hanson's crackerjack direction adeptly balances weightier dramatic moments, rich character development, and thrilling action. The movie is at once a period piece unburdened by nostalgia, a police procedural that bypasses formula conventions, and a film noir without the usual stylistic clichés associated with the genre.

At the time, the film's supporting cast was more famous than its leads. Although he's a major leading man and Oscar winner now, back in 1997 Russell Crowe was a little-known Australian actor whose only significant American credit of note was playing the villain in the Denzel Washington sci-fi bomb 'Virtuosity'. 'L.A. Confidential' proved instantly and irrefutably that Crowe was a star. Guy Pearce had been known only as one of the drag queens in 'The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' and wouldn't go on to his breakout role in 'Memento' for another few years. More recognizable were Kevin Spacey, still fairly fresh off his Oscar win for 'The Usual Suspects', and Kim Basinger. Backing them up are James Cromwell, David Strathairn, and Danny DeVito, among others. The performances are all sterling.

'L.A. Confidential' proved to be a solid box office hit and was greeting with rapturous critical praise. It was, without question, the best movie released in 1997. Unfortunately, come awards season it was mostly capsized in the wake of 'Titanic', garnering only a couple of token Oscars for the screenplay and for Basinger as Supporting Actress. Hanson would go on to make one more truly great movie, the under-appreciated 'Wonder Boys', and a few well-intentioned duds. Even if the director never does anything worthwhile again, 'L.A. Confidential' will endure as a classic, and that's a greater career legacy than most filmmakers will ever achieve.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

'L.A. Confidential' comes to Blu-ray from Warner Home Video in a 2-disc set. Disc 1 contains the movie and all video supplements. Like most Warner releases, the disc prompts playback of the feature without any trailers or even a main setup menu. Disc 2 is the soundtrack CD sampler.

Video Review


I have to admit that this was a tough disc to evaluate. For some reason, the opening Warner Bros. logo at the start of the feature is extremely blurry, actually out of focus. The movie proper opens with some heavily grainy and soft stock footage for effect. The combination of these two things right at the beginning put me in the wrong frame of mind. They set me up to expect the worst, and forced me into nit-picker mode where any perceived flaw seemed like a disaster. Honestly, it took me quite a while to get over that and begin to appreciate the disc's better qualities.

Dante Spinotti's photography is a little hazy by design, featuring many smoggy city views and smoke-filled interiors. At first, the Blu-ray's 1080p/VC-1 transfer (presented in the original 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio) seemed awfully soft. However, over time I realized how much detail was on display in things like the fabric weave of clothing, facial features, and small newspaper print. The image is mildly grainy, but appropriately so. The disc exhibits no obvious DNR artifacts.

Dark scenes have excellent shadow detail, but the contrast range as a whole is a little flat. Neither the bright scenes nor dark scenes have much dynamic "pop" or depth. With that said, the more I watched the movie, the more natural and film-like it felt. Some minor edge ringing creeps in on a few occasions. That's my only real complaint, and it's a small one. I started the disc with an immediate negative reaction, but it eventually won me over once I settled into it. If not perfect, I believe the Blu-ray to be a largely accurate and ultimately pleasing presentation for the movie.

Audio Review


The lossless Dolby TrueHD soundtrack was easier to admire right away. The movie's sound mix has nice musicality with sharp brass instruments in the score. Dialogue is always clear and intelligible. Gunshots crack with authority, and punches hit with a satisfying bass thump. There's plenty of auditory detail in subtler sounds, and the action scenes rev up to some thunderous power. Surround usage is generally reserved, until the climactic shoot-out that features aggressive rear-channel panning and discrete effects. All in all, it's nice work.

Special Features


The Blu-ray carries over all of the bonus features from the comparable Two-Disc Special Edition DVD. A few of them first appeared on the original DVD released back in 1998.

  • Audio Commentary – The term "audio commentary" is a bit misleading for this track, which is really an assemblage of numerous separate audio interviews and sound bites. Film critic Andrew Sarris pops in repeatedly, along with just about all the major players from the movie's creation: Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, author James Ellroy, screenwriter Brian Helgeland, cinematographer Dante Spinotti, editor Peter Honess, producer Michael Nathanson, costume designer Ruth Myers, production designer Jeannine Oppewall, and others. Mysteriously, the only person missing is director Curtis Hanson. There are so many participants that subtitles identify who is speaking at any given time. The track is rather jumpy and a little confusing, but contains a lot of useful information.
  • Music-Only Track – Jerry Goldsmith's score is isolated in Dolby Digital 5.1.
  • Whatever You Desire: The Making of L.A. Confidential (SD, 30 min.) – Although absent from the commentary track, Curtis Hanson appears regularly in the featurettes on the disc, starting with this very interesting making-of piece. We learn that Warner Bros. was not very enthusiastic about the project at all, about the casting challenges, the difficulties working with a low budget, and about Hanson's desire to not compromise.
  • Sunlight and Shadow: The Visual Style of L.A. Confidential (SD, 21 min.) – Cinematographer Dante Spinotti explains how he tried to keep a contemporary feeling with the photography of the movie, and to avoid typical "film noir" stylistics as much as possible.
  • A True Ensemble: The Case of L.A. Confidential (SD, 25 min.) – Hanson reveals that he wanted to cast relatively unknown actors (at the time) for the leads so that the audience would have to discover them.
  • L.A. Confidential: From Book to Screen (SD, 21 min.) – Screenwriters Hanson and Helgeland describe their collaboration on the adaptation and how they decided what to cut. Author Ellroy claims that the movie only covers 20% of the book (but he likes it anyway).
  • L.A. Confidential TV Pilot (SD, 47 min.) – Now this is bizarre. Kiefer Sutherland stars as Jack Vincennes in a TV pilot produced in 2000. Obviously, the show wasn't picked up, and it's a good thing or we never would have had '24'. The episode is a fascinating curiosity, but also kind of awful. It's badly miscast (Sutherland included), has unconvincing period production values, and bears next to no resemblance to either the movie or the original novel.
  • Off the Record (SD, 19 min.) – This production featurette from the 1998 DVD covers a lot of the same ground as some of the other features here, but is nonetheless a pretty good overview of the movie's creation. The screen test footage of Crowe and Pearce is a highlight.
  • Photo Pitch (SD, 8 min.) – Hanson gives us a peek at some of the images that inspired the visual design of the movie.
  • The L.A. of L.A. Confidential (SD, approx. 10 min.) – A series of 15 very short video clips about famous locations seen in the movie. It's very annoying to have to sort through them one-by-one.
  • Trailers & TV Spots (SD, 5 min.) – A theatrical trailer, five TV commercials, and an ad for the soundtrack CD.
  • CD Sampler – Five classic tunes from the soundtrack: "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive" by Johnny Mercer, "Look for the Silver Lining" by Chet Baker, "Hit the Road to Dreamland" by Betty Hutton, "Wheel of Fortune" by Kay Star, and "Powder Your Face with Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!)" by Dean Martin.

'L.A. Confidential' is a flat-out masterpiece. The Blu-ray has a faithful transfer and a load of terrific supplements. It of course comes highly recommended.