Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “L.A. Confidential.”
The Movie: “L.A. Confidential”
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce
Director: Curtis Hanson
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) As corruption grows in 1950s LA, three policemen – one strait-laced, one brutal and one sleazy – investigate a series of murders with their own brand of justice.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 99 percent
And, while we watch pure tripe here more often than not, the JOE-DOWN does give me an excuse to watch movies I’ve wanted to see for a long time.
So, with that, we get “L.A. Confidential.”
It’s been a while since we delved into some film noir here… well, I guess “Blue Velvet,” but we’ve watched some real garbage lately so it feels like it’s been forever.
Here, we go into the seedy underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, which is awfully glitzy as far as nefarious crime goes. And, this movie has something we always love here on the JOE-DOWN: Russell Crowe fightin’!
Also, Kevin Spacey is here… awkward…
So Froemming, before I rat you out to a grand jury, what were your thoughts heading into “L.A. Confidential”?
Froemming: This is also a film I have always wanted to see, but for one reason or another I just didn’t.
And of course, of late, the Spacey thing.
Look, I love film noir. It is a genre I am a sucker for. So this was right up my alley. Crime, crooked cops, betrayals, watching Kevin Spacey eat it in the end. It has it all!
Brown: I mean, “L.A. Confidential” is good, but “Man Getting Hit by Football” has a man getting hit by a football.
Froemming: As I take off my glasses because Brown told/shamed me that nobody in the JOE-DOWN wears them, why don’t you kick this off as I type this thing near blind.
Brown: So to start, we get some narration from Danny DeVito, which I am all for, talking about Los Angeles in the ‘50s. Hollywood glamour, a blossoming community and plenty of seediness underneath. Turns out, DeVito plays a journalist named Sid Hudgens. And since Froemming and I are both journalists, time for criticism: When DeVito started talking/writing and referring to himself, I got angry. Then it turns out that Sid is a reporter for a National Enquirer-esque magazine, Hush-Hush. So, I let that go, because he was a “journalist.”
I wonder, how many catch-and-kill stories did Sid do for future presidential nominees? Wonder what dirt he had on Reagan.
Froemming: I am sure President Reagan clamped down on him like Trump does with leakers and snitches: Fired everyone one in his cabinet one-by-one. Because snitches get….pink slips?
Brown: There’s a little bit of chaos brewing within L.A.’s crime world with the arrest of gangster Mickey Cohen. So, naturally, there’s a little bit of a power vacuum with the city’s biggest mobster out of commission.
I also want to note that Cohen has a bodyguard named Johnny Stompanato. Yes, that’s a real person, but really? The last name of a mob goon is Stompanano? He may as well be named Jeffrey Shootandstab.
Froemming: Mafia characters on film have a long, hilarious tradition of silly last names.
So we meet one of our heroes — or antiheroes if you will — in Officer Wendell “Bud” White (Crowe), a man with only two emotions: Rage and kinda pissed off. We see this at the start when he cases a parolee’s house on Christmas with his partner, Det. Richard “Dick” Stensland (a man who I figure is drunk about 96 percent of the day). He sees the guy smack his wife and yanks some Christmas decorations off the roof and gives the guy a good old fashioned knuckle sandwich.
Yeah, he’s just fightin’ ‘round the world in L.A. here.
Brown: Let’s note that this is the second time we’ve reviewed a movie featuring a dullard named Bud. Although, this one, while violent at the drop of a hat, at least has a heart of gold. Turns out, he’s especially violent towards men who beat on women. He’s not likable, but I get and appreciate where he comes from.
The best way I can describe it is Bud has the same dopey, likable charisma that Doug Glatt has in “Goon.”
Froemming: Yeah, he really dislikes it when men hit women, so good on him knocking some teeth out of abusers’ mouths.
We also have another hero in Edmund “Ed” Exley (Pierce), a man who uses his brain over his strength — or lack thereof. He is often referred to as a politician because he is pragmatic, looking at the big picture rather than easy arrests.
He’s also kind of a dweeb. His superior officer, Capt. Dudley Smith, mocks him for wearing glasses. He must view glasses like Frank Costanza: You don’t need glasses, YOU’RE JUST WEAK, EDMUND!
Brown: Or, he’s like Ogre and thinks glasses are for NERDS!
Yeah, Exley is kind of a typical character where he’s a book-smart type who scores high in aptitude tests but everyone doubts him having the street smarts or the fortitude of being a detective. Plus, he’s a total boy scout. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Finally, our focus shifts to a third cop in Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Spacey), who is kind of a creep, so Spacey is in his element. He’s a dirty narcotics cop who takes payments from Sid in exchange for getting Sid some celebrity arrests in Hush-Hush. I will say, Spacey totally fits the vibe of the ‘50s cop trying to get into the golden age of Hollywood because he’s got a certain flamboyance that puts him over the stuffed shirts in the office.
Too bad things at the station are about to get shaken up thanks to alcohol, a couple Mexicans accused of assaulting fellow officers and the newspaper photographer who just so happened to show up for “Bloody Christmas.” Apparently, this was a real thing as well.
Froemming: Well, the reporter and photographer were there to write a fluff piece on cops working Christmas. But hey come back just in time for the racism and violence of a gang of drunken officers.
And where did all this booze come from for the boys in blue? Why, Bud got it. He bought what looked like a big box of hard liquor, enough to kill a horse or at least two reporters working on a big story.
Brown: I briefly thought they were going to make some riot juice like in “Always Sunny.”
Froemming: While at the liquor store, Bud meets Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), a mysterious woman in a weird-looking shawl, a fashion choice that was questionable at best considering L.A. was probably 90 degrees or so.
And in the parking lot, Bud sees a woman in a car full of sketchy men with a bandage on her nose. I imagine such a scene cause the red lights and emergency horns from “Kill Bill” to go off in his head.
So he approaches the car and the driver starts some crap. Looks, Bud pretty much beats up everything in his path in this movie. I am not sure if that was in the script or Crowe was on a bender and they kept the film running as he assaulted people on the set, but it works for his character.
Turns out, the driver is a former, and disgraced, police officer named Leland “Buzz” Meeks.
I had to look it up, because this seemed like almost an obnoxious amount of characters to follow and remember (a major reason it took me years to finally watch “Game of Thrones”), so it made sense when I found out this was an adaptation of a book.
Brown: This is a pretty dense movie, but it does a good job of not being too overwhelming. Early on, yes, there’s a lot of names and characters to remember, but it’s not something that lasts throughout.
So, Bloody Christmas happens and heads need to roll at the LAPD. But, no cops are about to squeal on their co-workers. But, what about the self-righteous newbie Exley? He believes in justice over everything (he became a cop to follow in his dad’s footsteps, even though he died on duty). So, Exley says he’ll testify as long as he can be made a detective, even if everyone in the station hates him for it.
Froemming: Excuse me, lieutenant detective….
Brown: How about flipper? It almost ought to be illegal.
Froemming: So that makes both Brown and Trump against flipping. Good to know.
Brown: Exley finds a way to get Vincennes to corroborate the events as well after telling the board to threaten Vincennes by taking away his advisor role in a cop TV show.
So, being a detective, according to Captain Smith, means pretty much being a dirty cop in order to do the right thing. He does say a detective should be willing to shoot a guilty man in the back for the greater good. That’ll come into play later.
Captain Smith also gives Bud a new role: Muscle. Bud is brought on to help the Captain beat the (REDACTED) out of out-of-state gangsters trying to move in with Cohen’s absence.
Here is a dramatization of how Bud handles these wise guys.
Froemming: So Ed is The Brains, Bud is The Muscle, does that make Sid The Looks? And who is The Wild Card? There are formulas for a reason damnit!
Anyway, Smith and Bud rough up mafia-types to get them out of L.A., because they say they want this element out of town for a new era for the City of Angels, but we learn later their true intentions.
Vincennes, whom in this crew would be The Pervert, along with Sid sets up and arrests a young actor for pot possession. And while in the kid’s hotel room, he finds a black card that says Fleur-de-Lis, a discreet company that deals with people’s forbidden desires.
What desires? Well, prostitutes who get plastic surgery to look like movie stars. And porno I think. The prostitute thing is the bigger one in this story. Because that is (REDACTED) weird.
Brown: I was really, really uncomfortable with Kevin Spacey calling a telephone number that answers with “Whatever you desire.”
One night, with no one around the police station for reasons, Exley takes a call regarding a shootout at a place called the Nite Owl, which legit looks like the diner from the Michael Jackson “Beat It” music video. The diner appears to have been robbed, no first responders turned off the stove and there’s burned food all over, and Exley is following a trail of blood into the bathroom. Turns out, this was not so much a botched robbery as it was a massacre. Honestly, did not expect that.
Turns out, one of the victim that could be identified was Susan Lefferts, the bandaged-up woman Bud saw at the liquor store.
The other victim, Stensland, Bud’s dopey recently fired partner who was a scapegoat for Bloody Christmas.
Froemming: So you know, a totally random coincidence!
Now, Smith has a lead on the suspects. Because this is the 1950s, a time when Trump might have thought America was great, their focus is three African Americans.
*sigh* The force is still obviously crooked as hell here. But they got their leads, and Ed takes The Perv with him because Vincennes has some “friends” on the street who inform for him on the sly.
They are looking for a maroon car that might have guns in it. My knowledge of L.A. is all from movies, so that seems like a rather large pool to be searching in.
Brown: Well, they had the make and model and cars weren’t that common in the ‘50s, I guess. So they’re able to widdle it down. Eventually our suspects are apprehended and Exley manages to get the three to turn on each other during his interrogation. Heck, one of them pisses his pants, which means he’s the coolest one of the group if you’re to believe Billy Madison.
Froemming: If pissing your pants is cool, you can call Brown Miles Davis!
Brown: My mom says I’m cool…
Froemming: This interrogation scene is one of my favorite parts of the film. How Ed manipulates the loudspeaker so the other suspects hear only parts of the conversation to get them riled up, that was brilliant.
Turns out, they were part of another crime (IE, their only crime here, but it is pretty (REDACTED) up) in a house with a girl they are not sure if she is alive or dead. So, the Thin Blue Line head out to the location — leaving the suspects on their own and from what I saw, didn’t even bother to close the doors to keep them in.
Brown: Yeah, that bugged me immensely. You mean to tell me at least one or two cops didn’t stick around to keep tabs on three men who are being accused of a diner slaughter?
Froemming: Yeah, I mean we learn later it was by design, but still. I noticed it right away and thought it was a poorly written scene.
So they get to this house and they send Bud in alone, because of course send in the hothead cop with a vaguely Australian accent (Russell Crowe was briefly the Mel Gibson of the early 2000s, violent temper in real life and all!).
Now, Bud sees a woman tied to a bed who has been severely assaulted. This sets his rage-meter off to ludicrous speed as he walks into the living room to see a man eating cereal.
What does he do? Why he just ups and shoots this African American man dead and sets it up to look like the guy shot at him first. These sort of shenanigans would almost come to an end in the early 90s when, you know, L.A. blew up over the Rodney King beating. At least they should have.
Bud, you are pretty lucky you were four decades off from the camcorder era.
Brown: We forgot to mention that while looking for the car, Bud runs down Pierce Patchett, who looks like Charlie Kelly’s uncle. And we get one of many Chekov’s Guns in this movie when Patchett utters the phrase “Whatever you desire.”
After this, Bud meets the blonde he saw at the liquor store in Lynn, who is a prostitute for Patchett that bears a resemblance to Veronica Lake. I personally saw more a resemblance to Christina Applegate.
And, while Bud is an incredibly sexy name, Lynn is drawn to the punch-drunk cop and they begin a romantic relationship.
OK Lynn, you’re a prostitute. You have sex for money. You know who is a bad choice for a boyfriend? Someone who is quick to anger and speaks with his fists.
Froemming: I mean, this is Bud on any given day.
Yeah, before they date, he stalks her. So, RED FLAG there Lynn.
Ed gets a tip on where the escapee suspects are hiding and he brings some random dude with him.
And it was here it dawned on me: NOBODY USES A WARRANT IN THIS MOVIE AT ALL. Literally, these cops just burst into random places and start busting heads and snooping into stuff. We have a Fourth Amendment for a reason, folks.
So Ed and this guy burst into this house, and it turns into the Wild West here. Guns are blazing, blood is flying and at the end of the day, only Ed survives this slaughter.
And he gets a medal for it.
He broke so many laws. So, so many laws here.
Brown: Any time stuff like that crossed my mind, my rationale was “It’s the LAPD.” Then I moved on.
Froemming: Just like America!
Brown: For the sake of speeding this review up, let’s hit a couple key points.
- Sid enlists Vincennes’ help in convincing a junkie, Matt Reynolds, to solicit the District Attorney Ellis Loew for sex. Deciding not to play along after he got paid, Vincennes goes to the hotel before the meet-up, only to find Matt dead.
- Bud goes to the house of Susan Lefferts’ mother. There, she finds out that Susan’s “boyfriend” was Stensland and that the body of Meeks is decomposing in the cellar like a John Wayne Gacy victim without the mom’s knowledge. I feel like the horrid smell would be investigated by her at some point, but no.
- Exley and Vincennes start to help each other because they know some (REDACTED) is going on. While talking, Exley brings up the name Rollo Tomasi, which is the made-up name he uses for the unknown person who killed his cop dad. I thought that Exley was just getting creative in his love for chocolate-caramel candies.
Froemming: So the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. Even Bud is questioning the Nite Owl massacre. Bud realizes one of the victims is connected to the very creepy Patchett. So, the wagon is closing in on the conspiracy.
The conspiracy being Smith has basically taken over the crime syndicate in L.A. for reasons and our three cops are discovering this on their own journey. I mean, Vincennes finds out the house corpse was the old crooked cop Meeks. And he starts looking into the connections here.
And this film is making me feel like Charlie from “It’s Always Sunny” explaining Pepe Silvia.
To speed this up: Vincennes goes to Smith with his new information and is gunned down for his efforts, realizing Smith is basically Rollo Tomasi (which sounds like a delicious Italian dish). Ed heads to Lynn’s where he ends up having James-Bond style loud sex with her for some damn reason while Sid takes pictures from the window and Bud is used as muscle to beat up Sid later, who ends up explaining he has photos and now Bud is on the hunt because the photos are of Lynn and Ed.
This is cool on film, but in real life there are so many variables that could sink Smith’s Machiavellian plan that it is almost comical.
But here we are.
Brown, I will let you take the reins on Bud’s rage in the police station at Ed.
Brown: First, with Sid being a voyeur and taking photos of Exley and Lynn, I’d like to think that wasn’t Sid so much as it was Frank Reynolds shooting photos out of his overly tinted van.
Now, Bud is raging. He just confronted and punched Lynn because fists are his way of crisis management. And while Exley figures out that Stensland, Meeks and Capt. Smith were all partners for years, Bud goes all Tazmanian Devil in the records room, complete with chair throw through the window. I imagine this is what Tommy Wiseau expected his rampage was in “The Room,” only this one is, you know, convincing.
But somehow, Exley gets Bud to listen to reason and tells him that Smith set this up so Bud will kill Exley. Instead, the two team up and muscle evidence out of the DA to the tune of Bud hanging Loew out of a window like he’s Suge Knight threatening Vanilla Ice.
Seriously, Bud is the real-life Kickpuncher from “Community.”
Froemming: Again, so many laws broken here. How any of this will stand in court is beyond me.
Well, the DA spills the beans and now anyone close to Smith and this operation are showing up dead. I wanted this to be more of a montage to the tune of “Layla,” like in “Goodfellas,” but alas, we get what we get I guess.
And now we get to the moment where I literally yelled “It’s a trap” like Admiral Ackbar in “Star Wars,” when both Ed and Bud get notes to meet at an old, abandoned hotel straight out an episode of “Scooby-Doo.” I was expecting a ghost to be caught, and when the mask is pulled it would be Smith yelling about how he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for these snooping cops.
Brown: This shootout was badass. It wasn’t completely over the top like “Face-Off” or anything. They used strategy, like Bud going underneath the house to subdue a couple hitmen. They reloaded, for crying out loud!
The only thing where it’s like “Yeah, OK movie” was Bud taking multiple gunshots from Smith and was still going. He literally is Doug Glatt.
Smith and Exley are still standing and Smith plays to the youngster’s inner politician and convinces him not to kill or arrest him. But just as the police cars are seen in the distance, Exley becomes the detective Smith wanted him to be and shoots his superior officer in the back.
I mean, they call Exley a politician, and I could see a politician doing that if they could.
The LAPD doesn’t want to look bad, so they cover up Smith’s crimes and claim him to be a shootout hero. In exchange, Exley gets another medal because they give these things out like Smarties at Halloween, apparently.
Exley walks out of City Hall with Lynn and we find out Bud survived?! Dude is a (REDACTED) bullet sponge straight out of a video game. That, I wasn’t entirely keen on.
Froemming: I really thought Bud died in the shootout with Smith. I didn’t buy him just being patched up and heading to Arizona with his prostitute girlfriend. That didn’t sit right with me.
Anyway, let’s pop our glasses back on so we can see and head over to recommendations?
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: Hell yes. This may be one of my favorite movies we’ve done. The writing and plot are really good. I have always loved that ‘50s Los Angeles vibe. Russell Crowe beats up everything and everyone, It’s a good time.
Froemming: I wish we had more time to write about this because it is a really dense movie with a lot going on. But yeah, totally watch this film. It’s really good.