In December the Movie Club will continue its look at the changing face of noir with L.A. Confidential. Released in 1997, the film has been praised by critics (earning a 99% “Fresh” Rating on the Rotten Tomatoes), but never received the wide-spread attention it deserved then or now. This is particularly tragic as the film has a tight, fast moving plot, highly engaging dialogue, and solid performances from Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce (both new-comers to the Hollywood system at the time) and Kevin Spacey.
Things are rotten in 1950s L.A., and three different detectives try to navigate the vice in the fallen "City of Angels". Each has a different approach: Crowe plays the tough guy, with a tooth and claw mentality and a penchant for punishing wife beaters; Pearce is a political animal, believing in high principles and the “New L.A.P.D.”; and Spacey is the smooth talking type, with links to tabloids and working as an adviser to a hit television detective show. While looking into different cases the three start to notice links, and although using different methods and having personal grudges, they combine their skills and efforts to uncover the darker parts of L.A. and their own police department.
Where The Maltese Falcon established many of the stylistic characteristics of film noir, L.A. Confidential plays with these conventions. It consciously replicates them while reworking them. This is perhaps best done with its tone: The Maltese Falcon had a dark outlook, where the corrupt and criminal elements weighed down the film with its post-Depression, pre-war angst. But L.A. Confidential boldly accepts its colour film and seedy subject matter, serving up its vice and violence with vivacious glee. It may seem as though it is enjoying its subject matter too much, but therein lies the “ambiguity and ambivalence” that separates the truly great noirs from those who just want to play detective.
L.A. Confidential will be screened on Wednesday 9 December at 6pm at Narellan Library, Cnr Queen and Elyard Street Narellan. Coffee, tea, and biscuits will be provided, but BYO snacks also welcome. Stay after the screening and share your thoughts about changes that have occurred in noir from the time of The Maltese Falcon to L.A. Confidential. Use the discussion questions or share your own observations.