A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this isn't a thrill-ride cops-a-go-go actioner for kids. Laden with vicious homicide, numerous subplots and multiple characters, it depicts deep police-force corruption and entrenched brutality in law-enforcement. Even its "heroic" policemen are badly flawed, self-serving characters. One crusades chivalrously against assailants who batter women; yet he himself becomes one, out of sexual jealousy. Swear words flow thicker than the bloody wounds, and there is much talk of prostitution and sex.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Based on a book by leading crime author James Ellroy, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL recreates a Los Angeles in the 1950s where organized crime, corruption, and Hollywood culture mingled. Saga-like narrative (hard)boils down to three gutsy, basically honest but flawed LAPD officers. Hot-tempered Bud White (Russell Crowe) knows he's not smart, but he has an elemental anger towards lawbreakers -- especially those who abuse women and children -- and a fierce loyalty to the department. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) moonlights as technical advisor/inspiration to a TV police show (a takeoff on the original Dragnet and it's gone to his head. Rookie Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is a brilliant sleuth but tactless and ruthless in his career aims. Their busy caseloads and personal lives converge on the mystery of a grisly diner massacre (in which White's partner was among the slain) connected to massive police/City Hall/drugs/blackmail corruption. Added complication: White and Exley hate each other and are having passionate affairs with the same movie-star-lookalike prostitute (Kim Basinger).
Is it any good?
Though it comes highly praised by critics, L.A. Confidential makes a lot of the same questionable moves as a lot of lesser police actioners. Heroes who take beatings that would put anyone else in ICU, then heal up instantly; LAPD so criminal they make the mafia look wimpy; and the paternal chief who turns out to be the worst villain. Plus, after all the sinister twists and turns, an ending where everybody shoots everybody and lives happily ever after.
So why all the Academy Award nominations? The terrific 1950s California mood, dialog, and performances (winning an Oscar for Kim Basinger) are what make L.A. Confidential a standout adult drama. Plus there's the complex and fascinating relationship between cops Exley and White, who confront the worst aspects of themselves and nearly kill each other, only to end up allies.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the time period of the early 1950s, and the parallels between this script's scandal-sheet Hush-Hush with the real-life one called Confidential. Research crime/showbiz scandals of the time (the Web has the juicy details), about the Johnny Stompanato murder, and how Confidential magazine went too far. Are popular gossip Web sites such as TMZ.com just as bad today or not?
- In theaters: September 19, 1997
- On DVD or streaming: September 23, 2008
- Cast: Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Russell Crowe
- Director: Curtis Hanson
- Studio: Warner Home Video
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 156 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong violence, language and sexuality
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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