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Blu-ray Review: L.A. Confidential

L.A. Confidential is perhaps one of the finest film noir movies of the modern era. Perhaps not up to the standards of The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep and Neo-Noir Chinatown, but a great example of the genre. It has been upgraded in its HD debut on Blu-ray, does the format bring the movie to the next generation, or does it show its age? Read on to find out.

The Movie

L.A. Confidential is a complex film with an all-star cast. The movie is set in Los Angeles in the early 1950s. The cities lead crime boss, Mickey Cohen, has been arrested and there is a void in the city. Someone is trying to replace him and is killing off his crew. This is the backdrop quickly explained via narratives given by gossip magazine reporter Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito).

click to view larger imageNow that this high-profile criminal is gone the L.A. police department needs to clean up its image, they can no longer appear brutish and overzealous. Following a happenstance, but very public riot in the main precinct, we are introduced to a capable but violent officer, Bud White (Russell Crowe), an ambitious officer willing to do anything to get ahead, Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), and a degenerate officer Dick Stenslend (Graham Beckel).

Exley offers to testify that Stenslend started the riot and help the precinct save face if he is promoted. White is given a slap on the wrist and is tasked with helping the Captain, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), to perform clandestine shakedowns of mob agents from other cities.

The story starts in earnest when Stenslend (freshly ‘retired’ from the police force) is found murdered in a coffee shop and a Rita Hayworth look-alike model is found with him. Evidence quickly points towards four colored men as the culprits and a manhunt is instigated.

A celebrity police officer, Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), gets involved and is pivotal in the manhunt, but in the process of the investigation he starts hearing about a club that specializes in celebrity-look-alike escorts. Vincennes starts casually looking into the clues, and becomes truly involved after an ethical mistake he makes causes an innocent death

click to view larger imageWhite and Exley meanwhile pursue other leads (separately)and discover the trail Vincennes was looking at begins with a Veronica Lake look-alike, Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger). Bracken becomes involved with White and raises questions about what is happening within this city of Angels.

What everyone believes is the truth starts to unravel and all the principle characters start to come together as the mystery start to become clear.  L.A. Confidential is a great movie, there is no denying that. At times it is a little overly complex, at other times it over explains, but the great acting and fast pace keep you riveted at all times.

The movie is full of standout performances; this was Crowe's breakthrough role in Hollywood and he turned in a stellar performance as the violent but moral officer.  Kim Basinger won an Academy Award for her excellent portrayal of the confident but conflicted seductress Lynn Bracken. Pierce, Cromwell, Spacey, and DeVito all help to make this a worthy entry in film-noir history.

The Video

L.A. Confidential is a movie set mostly at night with all the lights and activity of L.A. as its backdrop. The transfer while capable is not up to the standards of other period movies and suffers at times because of the quality. Black levels in particular were weak and scenes were brightened to show characters better resulting in grey-blacks instead of true black levels.

click to view larger imageColor is very subdued and imagery is relatively flat, this results in very two-dimensional imagery that does not have the pop of wow-factor Blu-rays like Blade Runner and The Aviator. Just because a movie set in the ’50s (or the future) does not mean it should not look substantial. The subdued colors really mute the feeling in many scenes and hold the movie back at a visual level.

I know it sounds like I hated the transfer, I didn’t, it is far superior to any previous release (I own this on DVD and VHS) but when you see 40-year-old movies restored looking better (2001: A Space Odyssey) then this 10-year-old one you have to wonder why.  It is, however, a capable transfer and does make this the best-looking version of the film to date.

About Michael Prince

Looking at all things Geek - news, rants and updates from the worlds of gaming, tech, blu-ray, novels, and music.