Although it has been compared to legendary noir films, as well as crime classics like Chinatown, L.A. Confidential is a considerable and important step in a different and more human direction. James Ellroy's mammoth, improbably complex novel of early-1950s crime, police work, and politics couldn't have been easy to adapt to the screen, but the film does a masterful job of presenting this dark, haunting L.A. love song. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, James Cromwell, and Guy Pearce are all cops, each with his own degree and color of tarnish. After being thrown together in the wake of a garish mass murder, their characters are slowly whittled away, all against the backdrop of a city already beginning to warp and curdle under the influence of greed, corruption, drugs, and the lure of fame and glamour. Los Angeles was a different place in the 1950s, but the city we see is recognizable as the root of the present evil growth. It's a perfect backdrop for the seamless bop-and-rebop performances of the four main characters; not even the presence of Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito can break the spell, so perfectly are they typecast. As the story unfolds, carefully and elaborately, what develops is not just a remarkably intricate crime tale but a brilliant and compassionate story of people who struggle to rise above their flawed nature. This may be the best movie of the year; it's definitely one of the greatest crime films of all time.
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