[Originally published on Mr. Showbiz 9/19/97]
Among the many pleasures afforded by L.A. Confidential, the smashing new movie about corruption and redemption and murder in early-Fifties Hollywood, is that its excellence is so unexpected. Curtis Hanson, a onetime film critic, has labored nearly two decades in the Hollywood vineyards doing screenplays, writing and directing modest thrillers, and eventually making the box-office big time with The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and The River Wild. Nothing prepared us for the texture, pungency, assured storytelling, or moral complexity of his new picture.
True, Hanson’s source is a characteristically textured/pungent/complex novel by James Ellroy, whose intimacy with the fragrant, poisonous history of Los Angeles makes Raymond Chandler seem like a daydreamer. But faithfully filming a novel doesn’t ensure that you’ll replicate its metabolism, feel the same sting of acid in the narrative bloodstream. Ellroy loves the movie, which honors his book but also stands on its own—the first L.A. movie in more than twenty years to come within hailing distance of the historical, cultural, and mythic resonance of Chinatown.