L.A. Confidential 1.0 stars

Curtis Hanson's ill-advised adaptation of James Ellroy's monumental junkpile of a novel. He has, in the adaptation process, cleaned up a lot of the trash (the entire pseudonymous smear of Walt Disney), but what's left is still trash, and thinned out as it is, less coherent. The exposition is often breathlessly labored, and the emerging pattern a jumble. There is one genuinely shocking killing, in part because it deviates from the novel, and along with it a real inspiration in the choice of the murdered man's Last Words. The climactic siege at the derelict Victory Motel by a shadowy squadron of gunmen -- a reworking and repositioning of the book's opening scene -- provides spectacular reaffirmation of Hanson's basic filmmaking competence. The 1950s period ambience is perfectly sufficient without being suffocating. And the casting of two Australians and a character actor in the three leads -- Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey -- is a valiant attempt to preserve the novel's strong point: the evenhanded withholding of sympathy, to say nothing of esteem, from three dissimilar cops -- priggish careerist, ballistic brute, media-friendly spotlight-hog. With Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell. 1997.

Duncan Shepherd

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