DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
I don't often feel inclined to compare films I'm watching to others, but while watching L.A. Confidential it was nearly impossible not to compare it to the recently watched Gangster Squad. Seeing them shortly after each other made Gangster Squad's weaknesses and this film's strengths all the more apparent. L.A. Confidential understands the difference between style and class, the difference between merely showing a story and telling a story and the fact that if you have a great cast, you have to give it great material and that pulp does not equal poor quality.
Based on James Ellroy's novel, it is clear from the start that we will be dealing with a plot inhabited by shallow stereotypes, almost like pret-a-porter noir characters. And that's absolutely fine as the plot and narrative they reside in is outstanding. The two main protagonists portrayed by Crowe and Pearce are different sides of the same coin. They are driven, have a strong sense of justice and are single minded in the pursuit of their goals, the one using brain the other brawn. They are also rather unlikeable, but by giving them the simplest of character backgrounds we are still able to invest in them. Perhaps the most interesting character is played by Kevin Spacey who at one point when asked why he became a cop answers with: ‘I don't remember.' He is the only character that occupies a morally grey area. It is never really clear why he does what he does, but as the story unfolds we see a gradual change in him, making him perhaps the roundest character in the film.
The plot unfolds beautifully, making us part of the investigation and mixing action with passivity really well. It is interesting and is drenched in a noir atmosphere that never feels forced or overly present. The only thing that didn't really work for me was the Crowe, Pearce and Bassinger triangle. I understand the need for a femme fatale like character in a noir homage, but apart from the fact that we're not really dealing with a femme fatale here, it just felt too contrived and did not add the tension it was supposed to add. It also drags its feet a bit towards the end, but that is a minor complaint in an otherwise strongly directed film.
Curtis Hanson is a bit of a strange director who doesn't seem to be that consistent in his choices. This is I think by far his strongest film in which he shows a great attention to detail and an ability to get strong performances out of his cast. There are some stunning scenes here, of which Pearce's interrogation and the final shoot out are my favourite. While the overall pacing was perhaps not perfect, the pacing in some of the scenes was outstanding, enhancing the quality of the storytelling greatly.
L.A. Confidential is a film with class, a great sense of nostalgia and an engaging plot all aided by an excellent cast.