"L.A. Confidential" Blu-ray Review
October 02, 2008 by Zach Demeter
Sometimes you can completely ignore a movie like L.A. Confidential and not even realize what you’re missing. While it created enormous buzz at the Oscars in 1997, the film failed to take home best picture. Despite this small drawback, the film still managed to create a name for itself as one of the smartest and engaging crime thrillers to come out of Hollywood in years. Now past its tenth anniversary, Warner Home Video has released an all new two-disc DVD and Blu-ray edition for the fans and for the newcomers, like me, who didn’t know just how fantastic the film really is.
From director Curtis Hanson comes the thrilling film L.A. Confidential, adapted from the novel of the same name by James Ellroy. Revolving around a mysterious and brutal murder at a diner that involved the killings of half a dozen individuals, three very different cops (Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce) all take on the same case without knowing that everything would end up being connected together by a single mastermind. With a supporting cast Kim Basinger, David Strathairn, Danny DeVito and James Cromwell, L.A. Confidential remains at the top of many critics lists for its superbly crafted story and interweaving storyline that has you guessing until the last act.
The main reason why I never saw this film was simply because I was eleven when it came out and it was a far cry from something my parents would let me watch. It always intrigued me when I was younger, but probably more so because it had Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito in it and I was a huge Batman fan, so anyone or anything from those films had me interested. Still, by the time it came to the point where I could watch it, my interest had waned and I just never made the effort. Now comes the new home video release and I was instantly blown away by the film in just about every way. The cast, the story, the twists and the characters were all just impeccable and engaging in just about every way. Few films have wrapped me up in a plot the way this one did (most recently I can think of The Departed) and never once did I move my eyes from the screen.
From the start of the film I was intrigued, with the brilliant narration by Danny DeVito and the slick entrance of our films main three cops. Oddly enough, even though Crowe and Pearce were cast as relatively “unknowns” at the time, something director Hanson wanted specifically because the audience would not know who to “root for”, their roles in the film still remain as unassuming as I imagine they would have been had you not know them from their more famous works. Even Kevin Spacey, who was even a big star at the time of this film, seemed to be dialed back. None of the performances overcrowded the other and everyone in the film was instantly believable and likeable. Even DeVito’s character, someone who was only in his line of work for the money, was hard to hate and as each one of the characters left the film, it just became more and more invigorating to see what was going to happen next.
Few films have left me with the sense of pleasure that I felt after watching this film. I just enjoyed every minute of it and by the end I was out of breathe and hated to leave the world that this film created. The mix of old time Hollywood and the myriad of cops throughout the film that were either dirty or squeaky clean just made for a really eventful and exciting film. The interactions between Kline, Pearce and Pearce and Crowe were also quite enjoyable, with one of the films few genuine laughs coming from an irate Pearce badgering a woman that turned out to be a celebrity.
A small element of the film that baffled me was how Basinger won an academy award for her performance in the film. Granted, she had a fair bit of screen time, but she barely talked and when she acted it came off as kind of wooden. I’m more surprised by her award as after seeing her in the mediocre The Sentinel where she delivered some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen, that she almost always gives the same performance in every film she’s in. In any case, she isn’t horrible in this film, but how she was the only actor in the film to win an Oscar was just baffling to me.
Overall L.A. Confidential simply blew me away with its storytelling and pacing. I grimaced at it’s over two hour run time, but by the time the credits rolled I was prepared to invest another hour in the film, it was just that magnificent. Considering this is my first viewing of the film, it’s easy to say that this one holds up to the test of time. Highly Recommended.
What was once previously only available in a tedious snapper case (one shudders at the thought) is now available in a deluxe two-disc set as well as a fantastic Blu-ray release. The Blu-ray edition arrives in a standard two-disc Elite case, with the second disc being a six song “sampler” of the music from the film. The disc art for the film is a shot of Pearce’s character at the end, holding up his badge as the swarm of cops descends upon the motel. There is no main menu, as the film itself starts automatically, but there is a big special features menu that you choose all of the films many extras from. In a way I like the simplicity of the extras all on one screen; on the other there’s no freaking main menu, only a small pop-up.
Video for the film is a beautifully encoded 2.36:1 VC-1 transfer that offers a fantastic amount of depth and detail to the viewer. Although the opening is a bit rough in nature, once Crowe’s face appears on screen, the detail is immediately seen, with every little crevice of his face being shown in full detail. Clothes also exhibit fantastic image depth and there aren’t any real complaints I have about this transfer. There is a bit of grain at times, but it’s well defined and obviously intentional. This isn’t a reference quality disc in terms of video or audio, but it still doesn’t mean that this doesn’t look fantastic. The audio, available in a TrueHD 5.1 mix, is rather demure in that it stays mostly front channel focused, although it doesn’t limit itself to just the center speaker and instead spreads across the front three. The film is mostly dialogue driven so don’t expect too much in terms of surround usage, but the final motel shootout will send bullets and debris flying through and across your speakers, so be prepared to jump a bit if you’re watching this in a relatively quite house at 1:30am in the morning like I was. Also make note that the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track is set to default, so be sure to switch over the TrueHD track to hear it in full high-definition glory. In addition to the standard English 5.1 track there are French Parisian, French Quebec, Spanish Castilian, Spanish Latin (2.0), German, and Italian, all in 5.1 except for the Latin track. Also available is a wide array of subtitles including, English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish over the film and select bonus material.
As if that wasn’t enough for alternate audio tracks the film arrives with an isolated music score in 5.1, brought over from the original release. The major extra here, however, is the commentary by critic/historian Andrew Sarris, James Ellroy, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Ruth Myers, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Brian Helgeland, Jeannine Oppewell, Dante Spinotti and Danny DeVito. A note should be mentioned here that no, not everyone got together to record a new commentary, that’d be next to impossible. Instead the commentary bits are spliced together from the various interviews conducted, where we get to hear everyone talk about their comments for the film. The track is aided by Sarris, who keeps the listener informed of what’s coming up; anyone who has listened to a recent animated Disney commentary such as The Little Mermaid will know what to expect from this track. Although they aren’t in a room together, the track is still a lot of fun to listen to, as you get to hear plenty of chatter from everyone about their thoughts on the film as well as specific scenes.
The extras on this set are all presented in standard definition, even the newly recorded ones, which is a tad bit disappointing. At least it would be if it meant anything, but since the film and audio for the film look and sound so wonderful, I’m glad they didn’t sacrifice disc space for HD extras, so I’m not going to complain too much. The first extra is "Whatever You Desire: Making L.A. Confidential" (29:29), a new retrospective documentary filled with brand new cast and crew interviews. Everyone of the major players gets interviewed here, which is a great treat to see as one wouldn’t expect Crowe or Pearce to jump at talking about a ten year old film, but they’re obviously grateful for having worked on it. This message is felt throughout the rest of the newly recorded extras which include "Sunlight and Shadow: The Visual Style of L.A. Confidential" (21:02), a documentary on the look of the film and "A True Ensemble: The Cast of L.A. Confidential" (24:34) which focuses on the brilliant cast of the film. Here we get to see Basinger act a little goofy and laugh at her own jokes and tell some really odd story about the night she won her Oscar but…hey, whatever floats your boat. The final newly recorded extra is "L.A. Confidential: From Book to Screen" (21:07), a look at the adaptation process that went on for the film.
Arriving from the old release we have "Off the Record" (18:46), the old making-of documentary that is a bit fluff in nature. "Photo Pitch" (8:21) is the original pitch, recreated, made by director Hanson. Trailer’s and TV spots are also included, but the big extra here to check out is the "L.A. Confidential: TV Series Pilot" (46:30), originally shot for HBO in 1999. Starring Kiefer Sutherland in the role of Jack Vincennes, this pilot is a lot of fun to watch, if not incredibly strange. I’m thankful it didn’t get picked up if only because we wouldn’t have gotten 24 otherwise, but Sutherland’s role as Vincennes isn’t quite as playful as Kline’s. From the feeling I got from this pilot, it would have almost worked better without the association with the original film, as aside from recasting everyone from the film; it really didn’t retain any of the feeling of the original characters. Not a bad possible series, just not one that fits in with the feeling of the original film.
Overall this is a fantastic update to the original 1998 DVD release and one fans will flock to. It’s definitely worth upgrading to, as the new retrospective extras are nothing short of fantastic. Highly Recommended.
L.A. Confidential: Special Edition is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.