STARRING Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito
DIRECTED BY Curtis Hanson
A grimy police story set against the glamour of 1950s Hollywood, James Ellroy’s 1990 crime thriller would seem, on the surface, picture-perfect. Warner Bros. thought so, anyway, when it snapped up the rights back in 1989, but at close to 500 pages, with more than 100 characters and a plot that even its author admits some people can’t follow, L.A. Confidential didn’t attract a single filmmaker until six years later.
Then it attracted two. When screenwriter Brian Helgeland (Conspiracy Theory) expressed his interest in writing the script, he was told that director Hanson, fresh from The River Wild, had signed on to write and direct just weeks earlier. Helgeland then called the director and proposed a screenwriting partnership; Hanson assented to the offer immediately. ”Brian’s feelings about the book were in sync with mine,” says Hanson. ”And it was a massive undertaking. The book is so convoluted.”
Helgeland and Hanson spent a year condensing Confidential, winnowing speaking parts down to a mere 80 and focusing on two adversarial cops: brutal Bud White and genteel Ed Exley, whose only common thread is their taste in blonds. Navigating around them are a sleazy celebrity cop (Spacey), a tabloid journalist (DeVito), and a Veronica Lake-look-alike call girl (Basinger), all of whom become embroiled in the complicated events surrounding several murders.
Hanson says that Warner Bros. ”sensed correctly that the picture was going to be questionable by big-studio standards,” and he proved them right by choosing two of Australia’s finest — Crowe (Virtuosity) and Pearce (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) — to play LAPD antagonists White and Exley. The decision, which Hanson says grew from his desire to hire the right men for the job (and from his concern that the roles would have to be rewritten in any way to accommodate brand-name stars), paid off when both actors’ performances — and the film — won raves at this year’s Cannes film festival. Even the infamously cranky Ellroy is pleased, and not just because, thanks to the film, he has a new addition on his home. ”My feeling about Hollywood adaptations is ‘Where’s the option money?”’ he says. ”Don’t tell me it’s going to get made if it isn’t, or if you’re going to f— it up past redemption.” But, he admits, ”When I saw this movie I thought, Jesus, this is good.” Then again, he has no problem following the plot. (Sept. 19)
UPSIDE Critics are already comparing it to Chinatown.
DOWNSIDE Confidential is too complex to be a popcorn movie — if you run out for a minute to get a bucket, you’ll be lost.
STARRING George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Marcel Iures
DIRECTED BY Mimi Leder
Three years after Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen first trumpeted the formation of DreamWorks SKG, they finally have a movie to show for it: a globe-hopping thriller with Clooney as an Army intelligence officer and Kidman as the head of the White House Nuclear Smuggling Group, both fighting to keep an Eastern European terrorist from turning the United Nations into a radioactive ash heap.