Christmas time is here, which means holiday movies are all the rage. But some of the best holiday movies aren’t uplifting tales of the triumph of the human spirit. Welcome to Dysfunctional Holiday Theater.
We’re going back to 1997 for a movie set in 1950s Los Angeles this time around. Because when you think of Christmas, Los Angeles in the 1950s is probably the first thing to come to mind. Actually, it might be if you’ve seen this movie…
Based on James Ellroy’s 1990 novel, the movie version of LA Confidential follows three police officers as they work to uncover levels of corruption within the Los Angeles Police Department and a coverup within the department after a murder.
Directed by Curtis Hanson (another victim of 2016), the movie ranks as one of my favorites of all time, and is in my Christmas movie line-up every year.
After a great run of roles, including The Usual Suspects, Se7en, Outbreak and A Time To Kill (and THE REF!), Kevin Spacey gets top billing for the film, though I think you would be forgiven if you focused on the left hand side of the movie poster instead of the right… While he got top billing, Spacey’s Jack Vincennes had the least amount of focus of the three main cops in the film, taking a back seat to Guy Pearce’s Edmond Exley and Russell Crowe’s Bud White.
Exley is a straight-laced do-gooder and White is a roughneck enforcer, and the two are played against each other to protect the machinations of their captain, Dudley Smith, played magnificently by James Cromwell. Overcoming their intense dislike for each other, Exley and White have to work together in order to find justice in the Nite Owl diner murder and the corruption within the department.
Kim Basinger’s turn as Lynn Bracken is probably her best role, and she won Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars and the Golden Globes in 1998.
Wait, what does this have to do with Christmas?
Ah yes. When the LAPD bring in some Mexicans who are suspected of injuring two cops during the precinct Christmas Eve party, a group of drunk officers head down to the holding cells to mete out their own justice. It doesn’t really end well, since there’s a newspaper reporter and photographer in the building, doing a piece on the police.
The wild Christmas brawl kicks off the story proper, as it sets Vincennes, White and Exley on their paths. Exley works with the brass to dole out punishments, which included suspending White and temporarily taking Vincennes away from his role as technical advisor to a TV show about the police.
Vincennes is also reassigned and hungry to close the Nite Owl case in order to go back to hanging out with movie stars, but his curiosity gets the better of him and he ends up discussing things with Smith. That doesn’t end up going so well, either.
Watching that scene with my floormates my freshman year of college, no one was expecting Kevin Spacey’s character to meet the end he did. We probably could have been a bit better read, but the moment was definitely a shocker.
I absolutely loved LA Confidential when I first saw it in theaters in 1997 and more than 20 years later, the movie still holds up as a masterpiece of the crime noir genre.