The scene is Los Angeles. The year is early 1998. It is Oscar night and even though the most critically acclaimed film of the year was a 1950's set detective story nominated for 9 awards, there's no stopping the full-steam-ahead momentum of James Cameron's Titanic. But as they say in Hollywood, it's an honor just to be nominated. And one thing that L.A. Confidential had that Titanic didn't was a twisty script that made you pay attention or you'd get left on the side of the road, boy-o. The Screenplay Oscar was in the bag. But another win for the film–Kim Basinger as a Veronica Lake look-alike prostitute (you guessed it, with a heart of gold) in the Best Supporting Actress category hasn't held up as well over the years. She's not really asked to do much other than look pretty (check), but her performance doesn't even come close to Julianne Moore's heartbreaking turn in Boogie Nights.
And that's the thing about the movie 17 years later, although a solid film, it's not nearly as smart as it thinks it is. Forget about it–it's no Chinatown. Maybe being this week's film of choice for Hit Me With Your Best Shot from Nathaniel at The Film Experience will shed some light on the subject.
At the time, serious critics were falling over themselves praising the film. But watching the film over the past weekend (the first time I had seen it since watching it in the theaters in 1997), I was not as impressed. First of all, that script has some groan worthy lines. After Simon Baker-
Then there's everyone's backstories. "My name is Russell Crowe. I can't stand when women are abused. Wanna know why? My father beat my mother and I had to watch!" "My name is Guy Pearce. Wanna know why I'm such a by-the-book cop? Because my father was killed and his murderer got away with it. Rollo Tamasi!" Everyone might as well have a needlepoint pillow of where they came from. Oh, wait. Lynn has exactly that in her secret room where she can truly be herself!
Which brings me to my Best Shot. It seems fitting that just as I became disillusioned by how great the film actually is, my shot would reflect the own disillusionment of Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) and what it really means to be a cop.
Ed has always seen things in black and white. There is no grey area for him. But as he investigates the Nite Owl shootings and becomes entrenched deeper into the case, he soon discovers that things are not always so cut and dry. After tracking down the three escaped suspects in the shooting, Ed and a fellow cop (who gets shot and killed) start a shoot-out with the suspects. Just as the third one tries to escape from him by going down an elevator, Ed shoves his shotgun in the door and pulls the trigger. We never see the killing, but Ed's face covered in blood tells us all we need to know. Perhaps these weren't the men at all? What if he killed innocents? The camera lingers on his face as we get to experience these emotions overcome him.