L.A. Confidential: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 14 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

With a sinking ship leaving doubts before release, the year of 1997 proved to be one of the most consistant in recent years for a lot of great movies came out of that one year. Unemployed factory workers plotted to strut their stuff stripping, a manic depressive found a heart, A janitor with some problems is revealed to be a math genius and a big shining star rose circa 1970s in the porn industry. In between all of that lied a film that had a little bit of everything and substituted hot salt for sugar. It told the story of California in the 50s, how bright, how beautiful, how ugly if you started peeling the layers one by one. This is a time of crime, corruption, inside dealing and a few cops who involve themselves in a little bit of all. This is LA Confidential.

It’s a beautiful day and night in a time of bright lights and big city and in the city of Los Angeles everything comes with a price. And in one such case many different cops including straight by the book Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), tough aggressive Bud White (Russell Crowe), and smooth Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) come together at the center of a major massacre in a small coffee-shop massacre. Each have their own approach to what happened, but as each clue starts to unravel before and after the crime, there is a bigger picture and it’s up to these cops with their strengths and their questioning of themselves to get to the bottom of everything.

As much as I loved Titanic and was thrilled that James Cameron finally got the recognition he deserved with all that had come before him, I secretly rooted for this film to pull off the upset come Oscar night but the sad fact is a film that has a high repeat value where you pick up something on each viewing doesn’t normally fare well with the big trophies despite winning one of the major acting awards. Labyrinthian films are not always tops on an Oscar winners Best Picture or Director list and this film has a touch of that but it also has a little bit of everything when it comes to great films.

The smartest things the filmmakers could’ve done is cast the film at the top with two up and coming actors giving the audience a fresh take on expectation and both Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe do extremely well as part of this ensemble cast that has character actors shining like James Cromwells captain with some checkered sheets and Ron Rifkin’s double dealing DA along with some great roles with a few familiar faces that put their own stamp on the characters they play such as Danny DeVito’s tabloid writer who guides us through a good portion of the story and Kim Basinger’s femme fatale that seems to have something on the side brewing when things get hot.

This is a film thats hard to take any eyes off of for the sets are something to take in and a thing of beauty thanks to the wonderous cinematography of Dante Spinotti and the art direction for both were acknowledged with nominations all around. No film around LA in this time period would not be complete without the late great Jerry Goldsmith who sets another great track of music along with letting the faint trumpet that all have grown accustomed to thanks to Chinatown that it feels like a distant cousin when it comes to score.

Many of the nominated films failed to defeat a sinking ship in 1997 but none grew stronger and more willing of continued viewing than LA Confidential whos story is timely, intriguing at every turn, and gave a great start in the spotlight for two Australian actors who in their accents you would never expect to have that native tongue but pull it off beautifully off the record, on the QT and very hush-hush.

Video: How does it look?

This is the second go around for LA Confidential on DVD and its 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen seem to be fine the first time around and a slight improvement is evident here thanks to a little touch up on the print taking what little debris existed on the previous release. There is a wonderful use of color throughout the film as well as the look of LA especially at night provided just the right flavor visually of a ice cream sundae, colorful and filling to take in but with very little melting or bleeding in this case on this DVD. A Very good transfer.

Audio: How does it sound?

With the Dolby Digital 5.1 track, the audio proves to spread nicely around all channels, but there seems to be a feel of limitation (as evidenced on the In The Line of Fire DVD) where sounds that should give a sort of boom quality feel like they went over the needle of the soundboard but not too much. It had the right kind of clarity for the dialogue and the right here and there for score but somewhere in the middle, there seem to be something lacking a little more so than the normal soundtrack that a viewer would get in a film made in 1997. A decent track and better than the films the period sets in but one that cries room for improvement at times.

Supplements: What are the extras?

When we last left on the single disc of LA Confidential, the menus were quite entertaining, not to mention the featurette extras and the retaining of the lettering of the novel (which I always loved). In this 2 Disc Special Edition, the cover has been altered, the lettering is different and from the first announcement of this special edition, this viewer felt a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Ah yes, I was wrong.

This does retain those featurettes and the trailers of the film but it also comes with some new additions as well.

For starters, we go to disc one with a brand new commentary by cast and crew chatting about the different aspects of the film. The ensemble of commentators are so great, I’ll let you viewers out there have the track that the names pop up to find out who’s involved as this viewer skimmed the names on the cover but didn’t want to have in back of the mind “when is such and such going to talk?”, All provide great information into the making of the film, none are too self congratulatory and it makes for a solid commentary track that’s worth a listen. My only gripe is that I wish that there was a way to have that identifiable speaker text along with the subtitles of the film for I’m used to watching the subtitles when listening to a commentary to not lose track in the film while listening.

Finishing off Disc 1 includes a music only track with Jerry Goldsmith’s beautiful score and some TV Spots and trailers.

Disc 2 starts some of the new to this special edition:

Whatever You Desire: Making L.A. Confidential is an unbelievable look from all parties at the making of this film covering so much even if a few things are repeated from the commentary track, the presence of director Hanson (which was not evident in the commentary track) is here along with everyone else and it makes for a great documentary.

The 21-minute Sunlight and Shadow: The Visual Style of L.A. Confidential goes into the overall look of the picture with many behind the scenes capturing what black and white gets so effortlessly and that color can be difficult to pull off, a solid noir picture with a visual flair of many colors.

In A True Ensemble: The Cast of L.A. Confidential (24:32), defends what a great director will do when it comes to casting against the tip sheet list of studios and defends greatness to the end knowing that they know you can bring it and they wouldn’t be hired if they couldn’t and the confidence Hanson had in the casting against expectation is one thing covered beautifully here

L.A. Confidential: From Book to Screen covers the writers both in screenplay and in novelization and anytime to soak in James Ellroy on a commentary or a documentary is more than worth the price of admission, even if either or is not about his work–his enthusiasm and the way he spreads that to many comes across here going into the translation of this hefty book to the big screen.

The rest are from the previous release and its carried over here and Off the Record (18:49) covers material that was already there in the documentary but also gives us what wasn’t there and thats what Crowe and Pearce had to do to get those roles as pieces of their audition are there.

Photo Pitch goes to show how one director pieces together the film through a series of pictures and it’s just one look here and there that put all together.

The interactive map of The L.A. of L.A. Confidential is back and it shows all the sights and represents a film clip throughout and makes for another solid extra

Another topping to this special edition is the rarely seen pilot of L.A. Confidential, which takes place some years before the events in this film and provides a few origins here and there for some characters we’ve come familiar with but not by anyone from the cast reprising their roles. This starred Kiefer Sutherland pre-24 and from my recollection originally was going to be seen on Fox. Even though the studio got him to do another show within the years and had the confidence in him, this might have provided a more interesting task to cover what was not covered in the film that still remained in the book. It’s an intriguing pilot and one that I say it’s never too late for this to be a springboard for a continuation.

Finally there is a six-track CD of music from the soundtrack with songs that were used in the film.

This 2 disc Special Edition of LA Confidential provides extras that this viewer had seen as a nice surprise to the previous release, so it’s not a matter of it ain’t broke don’t fix it, it was never broke in the first place. It’s just a matter of keeping things up, making the right tweaks and tuning it up once in a while and this edition of LA Confidential does just that.

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