Review for L.A. Confidential (UK)
I’ve been on a double-dip frenzy the last few years, gradually working my DVD collection up to Blu-ray, but I never thought that I’d get to the point where I’d run out of discs to watch in my own collection, let alone review. I’m actually down to the DVD pile now, discs that I haven’t picked up since I actually bought them, maybe having watched them once at most. Now I’m no longer asking myself why I haven’t bought them on Blu-ray, I’m wondering why I never watched them again. L.A. Confidential for example is a DVD that I have no idea why I failed to re-watch it in the past 15 years. I know why I haven’t watched it in the last five years though, but that’s still 20 years with a disc in my collection, that I’ve only watched once. Why would you spend money on a Blu-ray if you just don’t watch the DVD?
Los Angeles, 1953, and the city’s police force is on the verge of a transformation, having recently placed the city’s mob boss behind bars. The old, questionable way of policing may not be welcome anymore in the City of Angels, but there is a power vacuum in organised crime that is attracting many pretenders to the throne. And in this city, three cops are about to tear apart the web of corruption. You’d expect that from Ed Exley, cleaner than clean, and as ambitious as hell. Bud White on the other hand is a brutal cop with a white knight complex who leads with his fists, perfect in a police force more used to beating confessions out of suspects, and evidence out of witnesses. Jack Vincennes is a dirty cop, who takes bribes from a gossip magazine to arrest the famous and the wannabes in compromising situations. He converts that notoriety into a spot as an advisor on a TV cop show.
These are three cops that would never dream of working together, but when an ex cop is killed along with six others in a coffee shop massacre, and an unknown aspiring actor dies in a nondescript motel room, the three find that they are working the same case from different angles.
This disc was released in 1998, before I even owned a DVD player. Suffice it to say that this disc is not what you want, not that it will even be available to buy today. A few years after this, a two-disc release came out with a better transfer and a few more extra features, and I have no idea what the countless subsequent re-releases have used for their transfers. Nevertheless, what you will no doubt really be interested in is the Blu-ray, released in 2017.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic PAL transfer on this disc is very much of its time, presenting the film to adequate effect, although softer than what you would expect from a decent DVD. Colours are consistent and detail levels are fair, but its best to watch it on a smaller screen, even better if it’s not up-scaled and you still have a CRT lying around. The audio is fine though. You have the choice between Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround English, French, and Italian, with subtitles in these languages plus Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic. The dialogue is clear throughout, the surround is put to good use for action and ambience, while the period soundtrack certainly gives the film a mood, and holds the attention.
It’s unlikely you’ll find the snapper case that I got with the film now, a short–lived packaging format that would have been ideal for our modern, eco-conscious age, but was quickly ditched by Warner Brothers at the start of the DVD era. It’s a pretty nice implementation of the case too, with a fold out cover that offers more artwork for the film.
The film autoplays on insertion, and you’ll have to escape to the main menu to access the extra features. On the main page, the majority of the extra features are text based, cast and crew filmographies, production notes and the like.
Confidential Roll Call
The Lowdown on the Movie Makers
L.A. Mob Scene
Just Can’t Beat Those 1953 Prices
The last entry on the list, “Extra! Extra! Reel Shocking Evidence” opens a second page of video extras.
The L.A. of “L.A. Confidential” is about 5 minutes of 20 second clips looking at the locations.
TV Spots x3
Theatrical Trailer (2:15)
“Off the Record” Behind the scenes featurette (18:50)
The Photo Pitch (8:25)
Soundtrack Promo (1:02)
5.1 Alternate Music Only Soundtrack
The extras are rather ephemeral with this release, and the subsequent 2 disc release is preferable at this point, and of course the Blu-ray.
There are good films out there that I rarely want to watch. These are films that win awards, that get critical acclaim, that are entertaining and edifying to watch. They are the epics, the genre defining films, the box office hits. There’s something about being told just how significant a film is that actually puts me off them a bit. It turns out that I have more than a few DVDs of films like that, films that I watched maybe once on the format, and never got around to upgrading to HD. And of course there is Kevin Spacey, whose presence in any film now brings a sour taste to the mouth. The bottom line is that this was the first time I had watched this film in over 20 years, and much as I enjoyed it last night, I doubt I’ll re-watch it again anytime soon. That’s not conducive to a double-dip, and even this creaky, twenty-year old transfer is good enough to watch.
L.A. Confidential does set a benchmark in what crime thrillers can be however, and it very much has that significance in film history that warrants its many awards, and that critical acclaim. There are crime thrillers aplenty, loads of mysteries with hard-boiled characters, and noirish action. L.A. Confidential does all this, and much more, and on top of that creates a 1950s Los Angeles that overflows with nostalgia, and is highly evocative.
Another thing that makes the film interesting is the combination of three leads, three mutually antithetical characters who can’t help but antagonise each other, and will invariably clash, verbally if not violently. We have the highly ambitious, but outwardly squeaky clean Ed Exley, the corrupt and self-serving Jack Vincennes, and the brutal and uncompromising Bud White. These three cops have to navigate their way through a police force that is corrupt to the core.
What really makes L.A. Confidential special though is the complexity of the plot. Most crime thrillers have a linear approach to their storytelling, a rather easy path of mystery, investigation, and resolution, albeit with red herrings and blind alleys along the way. It’s like there being just a single path through a maze. L.A. Confidential on the other hand is a sprawling complexity of a story, with multiple crimes, various storylines that intertwine, break apart, and then come back together again. It’s not just a window on a corrupt world, it’s a snapshot of that world in its entirety, the flavour of a corrupt police force and the politicians around it, and the grimy underworld of a city of fallen angels.
Well, you don’t want this DVD in 2022, but if you have it at hand, it’s not a chore to watch, even scaled up to HD in a way that it was never designed for back in 1998. I still think it’s a great movie, but I’m still not inclined to watch it often enough to warrant re-buying it in a more appropriate quality.