L.A. Confidential

Anyone who may still be treasuring fond memories of the 1950s has got to have
a hard time of it in coming up against the tendency of late 20th century
culture—which seems to be obsessed with the notion that that decade was a
horrible time in America’s history.
Well, you may think as I do that they protest too much. It is because those who
are old enough to remember know the inaccuracy of the politically correct
version of the 50s—as the last gasp of patriarchy and racism and sexism
and hypocrisy—that the cultural progressives must work so hard to convince
us of it. That is why, when Hollywood returns to that period, it so often goes
out of its way to convince us that Ozzie and Harriet America is not the ideal
but the anti-ideal—a sinister mask for all that is ugliest in the human

If it is “Ozzie and
Harriet” which is so often the target
of the decade’s detractors, it is
which is getting the same treatment in L.A. Confidential, a new film
directed by Curtis Hanson from the novel by James Ellroy. Here the show is
thinly disguised as “Badge of
Honor” and it occupies a place in the
background of the action for the sole purpose of showing up the fraud, as these
film-makers see it, of any idea of
being attached to the LAPD. It is, of course, now well known that the pre-riots
LAPD was corrupt and racist and violent, but L.A. Confidential is here to
tell you that you had no idea of how far it went, of how, after having
protected the gangster and tax-evader, Mickey Cohen, for years, the LAPD decided
not only to take over his rackets themselves but to summarily execute any rivals
left over from the Cohen empire. Threatened with exposure, the bad cops (who,
the final scene seems to suggest, were all the cops except two) ruthlessly
murdered those who knew anything about their malefactions.

What? You don’t remember reading
this story in the history books? Well, some licence has been taken with the
facts ( “Just the facts,
is here only a comical catch-phrase from
brought in at a key moment in order to discredit the show further). Instead of
the 1950s style of “just the facts,
L.A. Confidential has just the speculation and theory and conjecture and
paranoia, ma’am, of the 1990s, and we
are supposed to think it a beneficial exchange.

For some reason, the cast is dominated by Australians. James Cromwell, the
lovable farmer from Babe plays Dudley Smith, a sinister police Captain
who is in charge of the massive conspiracy. Guy Pearce plays Lt. Edmund Exley,
an idealistic young officer whose father was killed by a perp and who wants to
live up to the old man’s brilliant
promise. Russell Crowe plays Officer Wendell,
White, a sensitive soul under a ruthless exterior who saw his father beat his
mother to death with a tire iron and ever since has had a thing about
wife-beaters: he hates them and beats them up every chance he gets. He also
beats a lot of other people up. He falls hard for Kim Basinger, a prostitute who
makes her living by impersonating Veronica Lake for her johns. In addition,
Kevin Spacey plays Sgt Jack Vincennes, the technical adviser to
“Badge of
Honor” and rather a preening peacock,
but in the end one of the few good guys, while Danny De Vito plays the gossip
columnist, Sid Hutchens, the editor of a scandal sheet called Hush

There is a lot more, but the story is much too long and convoluted to
re-tell. You will know all you need to know about it if I tell you that it
involves the following:

An incident of police brutality against Mexican Americans, for which a
suitable scapegoat is found to bear all the blame.

Police solidarity against “ratting
out” any colleague, however guilty,
which only Exley willingly breaches

A mass murder which the cops pin on three young black kids, though in fact
the cops do it.

The discovery by Exley, White and Vincennes of
Smith’s evil racket and the final face
off in a gun battle between the two good cops left alive and, seemingly, the
rest of the force.

In a final moment of irony, the idealistic Exley, after having explicitly
denied to an amused Smith (for whom it is obviously standard procedure) that he
would shoot someone in the back whom he knew to be guilty but
couldn’t convict, must decide whether
or not to shoot Smith in the back. What do you think he does?

It’s a long way to go round in
order to discover that maybe things
haven’t changed so much since the
1950s after all. It doesn’t really
matter anyway. All that matters is stoking up the paranoia of the 1990s.

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