LA Confidential

This week on Popcorn Dialogues, Alastair stands in for Jenny as we take a stroll through organized crime and institutional corruption. Sounds like fun!

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A shooting at an all night diner is investigated by three LA policemen in their own unique ways.

Bud White and/or Ed Exley. It’s complicated.

Release Date:
September 19th, 1997

James Ellroy (book); Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson (screenplay)

LA Confidential by James Ellroy

Mystery Analysis:
Detective as protagonist?

Lani: Yes. All three of them.
Alastair: Absolutely, although who the protagonist actually is remains open to debate.

Murderer as antagonist?
Lani: Yes.
Alastair: Yes, although the focus shifts from Patchett to Smith.

Conflict created by mystery/murder?
Lani: Yes, it’s the typical shed light/remain in the dark conflict.
Alastair: Yes, it’s present from the second scene of the film — or the first, if I had editorial control.

Fair play with all the clues given?
Lani: Yes; there were some areas that felt a little vague, but overall, I think everything was there all along.
Alastair: Yes, although it can be difficult to appreciate their significance through the smog of 1950s Los Angeles.

Solved using deduction, not luck?
Lani: Yep.
Alastair: Absolutely.

All threads pertaining to the mystery pull together at the end?
Lani: Yes; once you go back through from the end and look at the beginning, it all makes sense why it’s there.
Alastair: Definitely. All those errant strands are pulled tight in the last act, and it comes together beautifully.

Story Analysis & Ratings:

Lani says: 4 Pops
Mystery: 5, Craft: 4, Suspense: 4, Romance: 1

Alastair says: 4 Pops
Mystery: 5, Craft: 3, Suspense: 3, Romance: 2


5 responses to “LA Confidential”

  1. There’s three protagonists in the movie and it switches between them. Vincennes drops out 2/3 of the way in, but I think they’re all pretty equally handled for the most part.

    I mostly love this one. Hell, I actually understand this one, and I honestly can’t say I’ve understood the plot of most of these detective novels at bloody all, to the point where I wonder if I’m an idiot. Though I am still wondering how Lynn was talked into “helping” Bud by getting it on with Exley in front of a camera. Nobody ever seems to explain that one and how it came about. I did try to read the novel at one point, but dear god, I can’t read the author’s writing style. Movie is a vast improvement.

    It’s interesting how they do the establishing moments in this one. White is “the thug,” Vincennes is “Hollywood” and Exley is “the politician.” And then they play with those all over the place.

    I love(d?) White and his “no woman beating when I’m around” attitude, and his adorable relationship with Lynn because they see each other as they really are, not “the dumb thug” and “Veronica Lake.” I do care about Bud and Lynn, and at least have interest in what Exley and Vincennes are up to, so it kept me paying attention.

    But it’s been awhile since I saw this movie and I forgot Bud hit her after he found out about the Exley thing and … eeesh. Man, I don’t know any more. I find it very hard to believe too, except when you think about how in real life, how he learned to deal with violent urges is to hit somebody. (Note: I think he’s pissed at her sleeping with Exley because as far as she knows and Bud feels, he and Exley are kind of enemies. Why would she do that if she knew it would hurt him, is the logic.) It bugs me because I loved Bud for being a champion of women and now I just wonder if he’s another Chris Brown abuser type. Will he never hit Lynn again in Arizona? God, I hope so, but in real life, probably not. And that gives me the wiggins.

    I don’t think Exley is that ethical. He is somewhat ethical, as is Bud. Bud isn’t against violence entirely so much as he’s against it in certain targets–which Smith took advantage of. Exley’s morals are somewhat tampered by his ambition and he makes darned sure he gets his if he’s going to compromise.

    Watching Smith manipulate them both–encouraging Bud’s violence and Exley’s ambition, while bitching about Exley’s lack of violence– is interesting and quite creepy.

  2. I seem to be the only one that bought Bud hitting Lynn. I think it’s completely in character. He may have been most violent toward batterers, but he was seriously lacking in control pretty much from the start. He was constantly violent, it was his go-to response to anger, and he was angry all the time. Anyone as close to him as Lynn got was going to end up being a target for that eventually. Interestingly, I think hitting her made him realize just how far he’d gone, how violent he’d become (corruption and the slippery slope), and I like to think he made an attempt to fix that after the action of the movie ended (i.e., leaving LA with Lynn, getting a fresh start). I always have issues with his character when I watch this. Honestly, Jack is my favorite of the three of them, even when I know he’s going to end up dead.

  3. This is one of my absolute favorite movies, so I may be biased, but I’m going with Jenny on this.

    I love Bud White. I completely adore him. Because he is this walking contradiction between hating violence against women and being such a violent person himself. I also love his relationship with Lynn because I too saw that they saw each other beyond the surface stereotype — he isn’t the dumb thug to her, and she isn’t a hooker who looks like Veronica Lake. I can see how Lani thinks he was stalking her in the beginning, but it doesn’t creep me out. I think she fascinates him and he wants to get to know her, but he doesn’t have the social skills to talk to her. So when he finally goes to her door, it’s this huge thing.

    I also bought him hitting her, but not for the reasons that Katie did. Well, I do think his go-to reaction when he’s pissed is to hit people. But I don’t think he hit Lynn because she had sex with someone else. I think he hit her because it was *Exley.* To Bud, Exley is everything he’s not. He’s the smart guy, whereas no one thinks Bud is smart enough to do anything but beat people up. The one person who thinks that he’s smart is Lynn. And for her to have sex with Exley, to Bud, feels like a betrayal. Like she’s finally seen that Bud’s dumb and has chosen the smart guy. And I think that that level of hurt and pain that he’s experiencing causes him to lash out. But when he realizes what he’s done, there is such a look of shock and anguish on his face (rock on Russell Crowe for that), you (or, well, I do) know that is completely horrified with what he did, and that he will spend the rest of his life trying to make it up to her that he broke his cardinal rule.

    However, I do wonder, if Lynn knew him as well as she seems to, why she would go ahead and have sex with Exley. Maybe she just thought he was another client to blackmail, and that Bud wouldn’t get upset because he hasn’t been upset before? But when Bud comes to her with the pictures, she knows that he is pissed, suggesting that she knew beforehand that he would have this reaction. So I am confused in regards to her motivation.

    I actually can’t stand Exley. I think he’s a slimy, smarmy sleazeball. But I see how he has that streak of honorability in him that makes him one of the protagonists. And yes, Jack Vincennes is an awesome character. I’m sad every time I watch this and he dies. But Bud is my favorite. I love Bud.

    And now my defense is done. Haha.

  4. @Erica: I think you’ve sold me on the trigger for Bud hitting her (that it was about his rivalry/animosity with Exley). But I still he think he would have lashed out or gone too far at some point, maybe not specifically with Lynn, but with someone that didn’t deserve it. I think that’s the thematic point the movie is making with his character. Exley’s kind of corruption is the political manipulation, deal-making and cover-up kind; Jack’s kind of corruption is the graft and shameless self-promotion kind. Bud’s kind of corruption is brutality and violence, and I believe the impression they hope to give is that immersing yourself in violence that way is dangerous, even when your reasons seem moral and/or just, because eventually you become so accustomed to it that you use it even when it can’t be justified. It’s that slippery slope thing. I do believe he hates himself for hitting her and that it’s at that moment he realizes his violent tendencies are a problem.

    My issues with him aren’t related to Lynn (I actually like their relationship) so much as his shooting that guy and staging the crime scene. I’m a criminal justice student, that kind of stuff just really bothers me, even if he was a rapist bastard. Not something I want cops to do, or be OK with.

  5. I’ve seen this several times, although not recently, and I must admit it’s one of the few movies in which I can even stand Russell Crowe. I agree that it’s visually stunning. What I find interesting is that these noir movies are giving us so much trouble when it comes to coherent structure. I really thought this one was going to be the ‘one’. I figured it would be modern enough that it would benefit from what went before and still be able to enjoy the Noir-ism of the past. Unfortunately, it just seems that it sacrificed story to go for the Noir aspects. We’ve had good mysteries but nothing seems to have hit on all cylinders. I’m wondering if this is a product of this kind of story – were they trying to do many things at once – or is it just a product of these particular stories?