Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

L.A. Confidential

What About It?
(For a full summary of the film, scroll down to "What Happens?")

L.A. Confidential is a movie all about make believe and the insidious nature of corruption. The choice of  1950's Los Angeles is a perfect place to tell that story. Everyone in this movie's L.A. is  spellbound by the glamour of the city, and of the movies that take place there. The rarefied air breathed by the Hollywood types is consumed by osmosis, by all who live there, including the police department. Except for the color, L.A. Confidential feels like a film noir, in the best sense of the phrase. These characters all have hidden agendas. The color, however, is put to great use, showing us an impossibly bright city of impossibly well dressed people. Here though, the shiny people look tired, as if the shine is only possible because of the secrets they keep. No character is squeaky clean, but there are certainly degrees.

Director Curtis Hanson makes full use of the contrast between sunshine and corruption. The scene where Bud beats a man who was beating his wife after pulling down the out of place looking Christmas lights is a perfect example. There is no wintertime here. The weather is always perfect, no matter how grimy the citizens are. The movie is full of top notch actors, but their dynamics are balanced perfectly, so that even the smallest parts feel indispensible. He gives us a city with an inpossible shine on the surface, but only rot and corruption beneath. It's no suprise here that call girls are altered to look like movie stars, or that cops would rather make money from TV than do what they're supposed to. The film moves from place to character seamlessly and the period aspect never gets in the way of character or story. The plot made of many moving parts, all the twists and turns of a good noir, but they come together naturally in the end. Hanson is certainly helped a lot by James Ellroy's brilliant script, which has all the smart dialogue and snappy patter of a classic noir while keeping the complicated story as clear as it needs to be at any given time.

Kevin Spacey's Jack Vincennes is the best representation of what the city does to a cop. His fellow officers call him "Hollywood Jack" indicating his preference in duties. Jack plays the game more than he does a job, but he does arrest people, even if in the most headline worthy way. His friendship with Sid Hudgens (Danny Devito,) is a natural fit. Hudgens and Vincennes both make their living, manipulating the filth beneath the veneer, while both adopting a devotion to their own superficiality. Ultimately Vincennes is more of a tool for Hudgens than the other way around, as it's SId who gets the dirt, and includes Jack to get the story. Jack doesn't mind for the most part, as he likes being celebrated. He does however, retain some morality, and his hard worked at superficiality starts to wear when the simple minded actor, Reynolds is brutally murdered during one of their set ups. Even so Jack doesn't rush into action, and if Exley hadn't appeared with a speech about justice, we wonder how much energy he would've put into investigating the murder, if any at all. When Exley asks why he became a cop, Vincennes just doesn't remember. Jack sees his corruption as harmless. he arrests people that break the law, and certainly using an informant to get busts is within procedure. So Jack's real grey area is his motivation. He doesn't care about the busts but the headlines and his own minor celebrity. Yet,, being a cop still means something to  him and given the chance to get help looking into a senseless murder, he seems inspired, as if he would have done the right thing all along if he'd only had a little nudge. Of course it isn't that easy. As Dudley tells him "Don't start trying to do the right thing, boyo. You haven't had the practice." But there is something selfless in Jack, however small, and he manages to help Exley with his dying breath. Spacey is perfect as Vincennes a man of overall weak conviction, but nonetheless pretty good at his job. He gives his charcter a great presence in support of Crowe and Pearce's characters.

Devito is perfectly sleazy as tabloid reporter, Sid Hutchens, a man who has little loyalty or friendship, but knows how to make partnerships work. Hutchens is a man who is quite used to being reviled and doesn't seem to mind very much. He makes his living of the misery and secrets of others and has no illusions about this Los Angeles. David Strathairn is also great, as another element of LA corruption. He makes his living off the darker urges of the city as well, but unlike Hutchens, he has no defense but money. Appropriately for the city, he presents himself as a smart businessman, rather than a shady criminal.  Corruption abounds in L.A. and it's telling that at the beginning of the film, the crime orgnization once in control has already been taken off the board, but it doesn't feel any cleaner. Police Captain Dudley Smith is much worse and more ambitious than Mickey C. ever was, having a plan to take a piece out of all crime in the city. James Cromwell is perfectly cast for the role, portraying a believable fatherly mentor to Exley, and on the other hand a patient and ruthless schemer, who would sacrifice anyone to achieve his goals. The revelation that he is the guy behind it all is only effective because of his convincing performance both ways. Kim Basinger also fits very well as a jaded but still secretly sincere call girl who believes in true love, and is tired of pretending to be Veronica Lake and wishing she could be who she was before. Both Crowe and Pierce give spectacular performances, each playing and their interplay with each other and with Basinger is terrific. Their progression from enemes to allies to friends comes through believably. L.A. Confidential relies a lot on chemistry. How the actors relate to each other is paid careful attention.

The heart of the film though is the relationship between Crowe's  Bud White and Pearce's Edmund Exley, two cops of completely different kinds, who each for their own reasons are tired of pretending to be cops. Crowe gives us a character known and feared for brute force, who has grown into his own reputation. Bud doesn't see himself as an animal however, wanting justification for his brutality. Unlike Vincennes, Bud knows how he got started, with his own father. Lynn notices "you have a thing for helping women, don't you?" and this is clearly true of Bud. He enjoys beating me who beat women and others who "deserve it." but the years of being dumb muscle are not sitting well with him as he is very observant and not as stupid as people take him for. He accepts violence but has a hard time with not being justified. We see that part of his conflict is that the is closer to his own father than he would like, and when he hits Lynn, he realizes that he is himself, the thing he hates most in the world. When he drops his grudge against Exley in order to solve the case, we see that he is perfectly able to reason and put aside his anger given enough time. His telling Exley to talk to Lynn is another sign that he isn't the unthinking brute he's taken to be.

Exley is a thinking cop and insists on going "by the book" He doesn't seem as concerned about morality as with his own prospects for advancement. He's a "politician" respected by even Dudley Smith, who is quite the politician himself. Dudley seems to serve as a sort of father figure to him, being the closest tie Exley has to his father, as Dudley had been on the force with him. Exley appears to be a do gooder, but his interests come through as strategic and selfish. He has no problem testifying against his fellow officers for the chance of career advancement, not due to outrage but opportunity. He insists however that he won't bend the rules by planting evidence, or taking shortcuts, traits which Dudley, tellingly believes a detective needs to have. Exley needs to live up to his father, who was a celebrated cop. His rigidity makes him very unpopular, but he's a departure from the average movie straight arrow, in that he doesn't care who takes pay off money, he just doesn't want it for himself. Pearce's thinker is the perfect contrast to Crowe's brute. And Exley, like Bud White is underestimated due to his defining characteristic. It's assumed because of Exley's brain, that he won't get his hands dirty, just as Bud is assumed to be dumb, because of his physical advantages. Both judgments prove to be wrong, moreso when they join forces.

Both White and Exley are driven by the shadows of their fathers. Exley's father was a hero, while White's was a monster, and so both of them deal with the legacies in appropriate ways. Exley needs to be a better cop, while White needs to be a better man. Both men however, have their fathers in them. WHite's struggle with his violent tendencies is not an easy one and we see that he doesn't have a handle on it completely, breaking his own code of "if they deserve it" and striking Lynn when he feels betrayed. We don't know if he's done this before, but we see that it causes him shame. Exley also has some difficulty, as his motivation for becoming a cop was to catch the "Rollo Tomasi's" of the world, yet ended up getting so involved in surpassing his father's record that he forgot about "Rollo Tomasi" Neither man could be totally pure and withstand the corruption all around in the police station. It could be assumed that Dudley had been influencing arrests and convictions for some time, but neither man was aware. The department corruption was simply overlooked as "small stuff" minor pay offs, and planting evidence when they knew a guy was guilty. It's only the serious errors in Dudley's frame up over the Nite Owl case that cause the two men to start paying attention.

Even then, it takes them some time (and a tip, due to Vincennes' last words) to suspect Dudley.  Once they look into it, it becomes obvious that the department was full of corruption all along, they had just never noticed. Exley has his Rollo Tomasi and White has a chance to be a "real cop."  The face off, however, is decided by Dudley, who makes the mistake both White and Exley deal with daily, that of underestimating them. Exley gets an exaggerated example to prove that he can use the methods Dudley faulted him for not having, shooting Dudley in the back rather than seeing him get off without charges. Bud ends up in a situation he wouldn't have imagined, being taken care off by a woman, rather than saving women, as well as the knowledge that he finally did some real police work. Exley proves able to dive back into police politics, knowing he didn't forget about Rollo Tomasi. As Lynn says "Some men get the world, others get ex hookers and a trip to Arizona." but both of them get what they wanted, and we get a very dark world, where not quite everything is totally corrupt.

L.A. Confidential is an interesting film, in that it deals with "the line" a cop crosses to become corrupt differently than most. We're introduced to characters who crossed it years ago without even noticing, not because of some big event, but just because they got caught up in day to day life. THis is best illustrated by Vincennes forgetting why he became a cop, but we see it illustrated in all of them, Bud, Edmund, Jack and even Dudley. None of them decided to be "dirty" cops, they just got caught up in the city and forgot why they were doing their jobs to begin with.  It's a hopeful film in that despite all that, some goodness remains. Jack, Bud and Edmund seem reborn when they finally decide to do the right thing. For Jack, it proves too little, too late, although his gesture is of use. For Edmund and Bud, some redemption is possible. Perhaps this is due to the greater standard the two live by, the standard of their absent fathers which defines them even well into their adult careers. More than a simple cop story, we see the moment the two of them recognize the legacies they carry, confront them, and finally make their peace, before really entering their own lives. Because they faced this together they find a sense of brotherhood that it's likely neither thought possible.

When Exley says "Thanks for the push." we know that he's considered the trap he'd fallen into and how difficult it was to leave. And, after the last shootout, the sleazy shine of L.A. which was so prominent in the beginning, seems like nothing anymore, as we're more invested by then, in characters that no longer have the need for those trappings, choosing their own reality over the fantasy so readily provided. L.A. is changing with them. Here corruption is not one choice but a gradual shifting of priorities that's just a normal part of daily life. Most days wouldn't require a choice to be a good cop but we just happen to witness a day that does and that White and Exley are able to see the choice.

What Happens?

Sid Hudgens (Danny Devito,) a sleazy reporter for Hush Hush magazine, narrates the opening to changing scenes from 1950's Los Angeles.
"You'd think this place was the garden of Eden, but there's trouble in paradise, and his name is Myer Harris Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle,) Mickey C. to his fans, local L.A. color to the nth degree and his number one bodyguard, Johnny Stompanato (Paolo Seganti.) Mickey C.'s the head of organized crime in these parts. He runs dope, rackets, and prostitution. He kills a dozen people a year, and the dapper little gent does it in style. And every time his picture's plastered on the front page, it's a black eye for the image of Los Angeles, because how can organized crime exist in a city with the best police force in the world?"
We see Mickey C. arrested for tax evasion and Sid muses that soon enough someone will move in to take over for him.

Police officer, Bud White (Russell Crowe) sits in his car watching a house where a husband and wife are fighting. The husband is a parolee and the domestic altercation inside is a parole violation. His partner Stensland laughs about Bud's actions from the back of the car. Before Bud he leaves the car, he calls for another car to the address, telling dispatch, "We won't be here, but they'll see him." Rather than ring the doorbell, he pulls down Christmas decorations from the roof, by yanking a string of lights. The husband sees this and heads outside saying, "Who the hell are you?" Bud answers calmly, "The ghost of Christmas past. Why don't you dance with a man for a change?"
The man takes a swing and Bud almost effortlessly beats him and cuffs him to his outside railing. He tells him if he hits his wife again, he'll charge him with a "kiddie raper beef." asking if he knows what they do to kiddie rapers in prison. Bud checks that the wife has a place to go and takes off.

Next we see Officer Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) dressed up, dancing and talking with a girl who wants to know what he does on "Badge of Honor." He tells her "I'm the technical adviser. I teach Brett Chase how to walk and talk like a cop." She answers "Brett Chase doesn't walk and talk like you." He explains "That's because he's the television version.  America isn't ready for the real me." The dance and Vincennes' advances are interrupted by Sid Hutchens, whose presence disgusts the girl. Jack asks what the problem is and Sid tells him Hush Hush magazine did a story called "Ingenue Dykes in Hollywood" and they mentioned her name.  Sid tells Jack "a friend of mine just sold some reefer to Matt Reynolds. He's tripping the light fantastic with Tammy Jordan. Contract players, Metro. You pinch 'em, I do a nice feature next issue." He offers Jack cash as well but Jack tells him he needs more for the guys at the station.

Sgt. Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce) is at the police station talking with a reporter who mentions his father "the legendary Preston Exley." adding  "Must be a hard act to follow." Exley shrugs it off smiling. THe reporter asks him why he became a cop and Exley answers "I like to help people." He remarks that Exley is young to be watch commander. Exley explains that since it's Christmas Eve, the married men have the night off. Exley and the reporters are joined by Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell)  The reporters leave and Capt. Smith and Exley talk. Smith tells Exley he came in first out of 23 on the lieutenant's exam and asks "What'll it be then? Patrol Division? Internal Affairs? What?" Exley answers "I was thinking Detective Bureau." Smith isn't pleased, telling him he's "a political animal," without the stomach for detective work. He asks Exley if he'd be willing to plant evidence, beat a confession out of a suspect, or shoot a suspect in the back to prevent the system from letting him go. Exley answers no to all of the questions, telling Smith, "Dudley, I know you mean well, but I don't have to do it the way you did, or my father."

Officer Bud White is now collecting booze from a liquor store. The store owner says "If I ever get held up you guys better be here." Bud notices a woman walk in, Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) He doesn't know her, but wishes her a Merry Christmas and she answers "Merry Christmas to you too officer." He remarks"That obvious, huh?" and she tells him "It's practically stamped on your forehead." Bud leaves with a box of booze, which he sets down on the car, noticing a woman in a car who has her nose bandaged and is accompanied by two men. He walks up and taps the window with his badge indicating that they roll it down. The man in the back tells the driver to see what he wants. The driver gets out aggressively but Bud spins him around, pushing him onto the car and taking a gun away from him. The man tells Bud he has a license for it and mentions he used to be a cop. Bud checks his ID and says "Leland Meeks? Never heard of you." The man says "They call me Buzz." He orders Buzz to stay there and questions the girl who tells him she's fine and he's got the wrong idea. Lynn returns from the store and affirms that the girl is fine. Bud heads back to his own car and Stensland asks what's going on. When asked, He tells Bud that he recognizes Buzz, and confirms that he used to be a cop.

We then catch up with Sid and Vincennes. Sid peeks in the window of a house and  tells Jack where the people he wanted busted are situated. Vincennes gives Sid some instructions on taking pictures of him after the bust, telling him to photograph him with a big movie premiere in the background. Sid likes the idea imagining the headline "The Movie Premiere Pot Bust"  Jack approaches the door with camera men behind him and others heading for the windows. The couple inside is frightened when the camera lights come on in the window. Jack breaks the glass in the door and lets himself in, grabbing the couple and walking them out for the cameras. They set up a good shot of Vincennes and the busted couple in front of the premiere. Vincennes heads back in the house and finds a business card for "Fleur de Lis, whatever you desire" as well as a bag of pot. Sid narrates the story as Vincennes checks the place out, calling him "Celebrity Crime stopper, Jack Vincennes"

Bud gets to the station with Stensland, who tells the officers waiting on the booze that Bud "stopped to help a damsel in distress." The other guys remarks "Up to your old tricks again, Bud?" Vincennes is also arriving at the station, greeted by an officer asking "Hollywood Jack. What brings you to our humble station house?" Exley, still watch commander, is approached by Vincennes who offers him some cash as "a gratuity from Hush Hush magazine." Exley says "No thanks Jack. You keep your payoff. I'm not interested." Uniformed officers come in with Mexican people in cuffs, announcing that these were the guys who assaulted two officers earlier. Vincennes claims that one of the officers lost six pints of blood and the other is in a coma. Exley corrects him telling him that both officers are fine, resting at home on muscle pills. The officers hang out at the station drinking heavily spiked punch. An officer tells Stensland that one of the assaulted officers lost an eye and the other is receiving his last rites. Another officer mentions that the Mexicans who did it are downstairs.

The drunk cops led by Stensland, decide to punish the suspects. Exley attempts to stop them but they push past him. The reporter and photographer talking to Exley earlier are still around and run to check out the commotion. Vincennes finds Bud writing a report, and asks him to "put a leash" on Stensland before he kills someone. Stensland starts beating one of the Mexicans with officers all around watching. He starts beating on a second man when Bud catches up and stops him. However, the Mexican then tells Bud "Fuck your Mother." which causes Bud to start beating him. Exley orders them to stop though no one pays any attention. One of the Mexicans gets blood on Vincenne's white shirt, causing him to start punching as well. It soon becomes a free for all. Exley tells them all that they're going in his report, but two officers lock Exley in a cell until they're done.

The reporters get a great story and pictures out of it and the next morning's headline is "Bloody Christmas" with close up pictures. The Police Commissioner, District Attorney and Chief Dudley Smith meet with Bud, asking him if he'll testify about the incident. They tell Bud that a grand jury's convening and ask him to testify. Bud respectfully refuses and the DA pressures him reminding him that they know he and Stensland brought the liquor to the station. He insists that he won't testify against Stensland or anyone else. The Commisioner asks for his gun and badge, suspending him from duty.

They meet with Exley next, who immediately agrees that "justice has to be served, of course I'll testify." The commissioner tells him that the other men don't share his attitude. Exley offers "That's because they think silence and integrity are the same thing." Exley then offers them a suggestion, telling them not to do as the public expects and sweep it under the carpet but instead to "shift the guilt to men whose pensions are secured. Force them to retire. But, somebody has to swing. So indict, try and convict, Richard Stensland and Bud White."
Captain Smith is fine with losing Stensland but claims that Bud White is a valuable officer. Exley calls Bud a mindless thug, but Smith vouches for him. The Comissioner decides, based on the suggestions, that Exley would be a good role model and offers to promote him immediately to Lieutenant. The DA reminds them that they'll need a corroborative witness and Exley suggests Vincennes. Capt. Smith doubts that he'll talk and Exley advises that he will if they threaten his involvement in the "Badge of Honor" TV show. They ask Exley to watch from a one way mirror as they speak with Vincennes. As Exley leaves the room, Capt. Smith asks him if he's ready to be despised by the Department. Exley says he is. The meeting with Vincennes goes as Exley predicted and the Commisioner confirms Exley's promotion to Detective Lieutenant, also advising him to lose the glasses.

Exley and Vincennes give testimony the next day. Vincennes runs into Exley, asking him what his payoff is to be the star witness. Despite Exley's denials, Vincennes guesses that Exley is getting a promotion and advises him to be careful if he's promoted to detective as he'll end up working with friends of the people the testimony will hurt, adding, "And remember, Bud White will fuck you for this if it takes the rest of his life."
Later that night Captain Smith meets with Bud at a bar. Bud is impatient asking what Capt. Smith wants. Smith tells Bud, he admires his refusal to testify, his use of violence as a part of the job, and his punishment of woman beaters. Bud still asks impatiently what he wants. He offers Bud his badge and gun back, telling him that four witnesses recanted their testimony. He tells Bud that his partner Stensland is through. Bud says "Exley" and Capt. Smith tells him that Exley got what he wanted. He tells Bud he has a special job for him, acting as muscle, adding "You'll do what I say and ask no questions." Bud agrees.

We see many of Mickey C.'s men getting shot to death by a pair of shooters and find Capt. Dudley Smith talking with a bound mobster. He has Bud beat the man to convince him to leave LA.

Vincennes has been busted down to working vice. He's advised that a big bust is his only way out. He notices a Fleur de Lis symbol on a folder and investigates the business card he picked up. A woman picks up and hangs up when she doesn't know him.

Stensland is leaving and the men all offer condolences. When they see Exley approaching in the hall they remark, "Here comes the snitch." Stensland knocks a box Exley's carrying out of his hands. Bud follows Stensland out, mockingly saying "Sorry about that, lieutenant." as he passes. Bud offers to take Stensland out for a drink, but Stensland says he has a hot date, that's confidential.

Exley is at his desk after everyone leaves. He takes a call for a homicide at the Nite Owl coffee shop and rushes to claim it. He finds a cook dead behing the counter with a gun near his hand and follows a trail of blood to find several bodies in the men's room. Chief Smith arrives at the scene and despite Exley's insistence that he took the call and it's his case, Smith claims the case is his own. One of the victims turns out to be Stensland. Bud shows up to see the body and runs into Exley. Exley tells Bud what he thinks happened. The mother of a victim shows up to identify her daughter, but seems unsure, as her daughter "was a blonde, not a redhead." and looks somehow different. Bud recalls that the dead woman was the girl he saw in the car with a bandaged nose during his Christmas Eve liquor run. Capt. Smith briefs his men on the case, stating robbery as the likely motive, and listing suspects as "three negro juveniles" who were seen discharging shotguns in the park, also telling them that the suspects were in a maroon 1948-1950 Mercury Coupe. Exley is put in charge of interrogations to the groans of everyone in the room.

Bud takes off on his own. Vincennes tells his boss, that the information they have has no chance of leading them to a collar but that he has an informant who'll give him good information. His commanding officer starts telling him to stick to the info they have but Exley offers to check it out with him. Bud goes back to the liquor store and demands the address for "Lynn"  The information leads Bud to an estate where he finds Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn) driving golf balls. Pierce was the man in the car with the girl with the bandaged nose. He questions Pierce, who claims he doesn't know Stensland, but admits he knew the dead girl, Sue Leffert, knowing that Bud saw them in the car. A thug comes out to check on Pierce, who says he's fine talking to Bud. Bud asks where Meeks is and Pierce saws he doesn't work for him anymore. Bud asks why Ms. Leffert  looked beat up but didn't act it. Pierce claims she was hit in the face with a tennis racket. Bud doesn't buy his explanation and threatens to bring him downtown. Pierce asks if he's investigating illegal matters peripheral to the murders. Bud asks why her eyes were black and Pierce tells him he "needed a Rita Hayworth" for his studio. He tells Bud he has a Gardner, Russell, Monroe, Turner, and Lynn is his Veronica Lake. He tells him that Ms. Lefferts had just returned from the plastic surgeon when he saw them. Pierce the offers Lynn's address and to give Bud a reward if he finds the killer. As Pierce goes inside he tells Bud "whatever you desire."

Lynn is entertaining a customer but takes a phone call and tells him he has to go. She answers the door to find Bud there. Her customer starts talking tough but changes his attitude when Bud tells him he's LAPD and offers to call his wife to pick him up. Lynn tells him that Pierce called and filled her in. She tells Bud that Pierce is humoring him so his operations don't get threatened. He asks Lynn about Pierce and she tells him "He's waiting for you to mention money." He tells her not to try to bribe or threaten him. Lynn tells him she remembers him from Christmas Eve and says "you have a thing for helping women, don't you?" He answers "Maybe I'm just fucking curious. She remarks "You say fuck a lot." and he responds "you fuck for money."
Lynn: There's blood on your shirt. Is that an integral part of your job?
Bud: Yeah.
Lynn: Do you enjoy it?
Bud: When they deserve it.
Lynn: Did they deserve it today?
Bud: I'm not sure.
Lynn: But you did it anyway.
Bud: Yeah. Like the half dozen guys you screwed today.
Lynn: Actually, it was only two.You're different Officer White. You're the first man in years who didn't tell me I look like Veronica Lake inside of a minute.
Bud: You look better than Veronica Lake. Pierce Patchett?
He asks to see her again before leaving. When she asks for a date or an appointment, he reconsiders saying it was a mistake.

Exley and Vincennes go visit a guy who gives them the name Sugar Ray Collins. They arrive at the address and find other cops have made it there first. The other officers are in the garage and they show Exley and Vincennes shotguns and cash in the car. Exley insists they enter the house as a team. They arrest the men although Exley barely keeps the other two cops from killing them. Once they're in custody, Capt. Smith tells Exley that their shotguns match the shell cashings at the murder. Capt. Smith tells Exley he wants confessions. Exley interrogates Sugar Ray who insists he doesn't own any shotguns. Exley gets the name of their drug supplier and turns on the intercom in the next room so the other suspects can hear everything. The second man is terrified by the time Exley gets to him but he mentions something about a girl that might live, which doesn't match the Nite Owl crime. Exley goes back to Sugar Ray who seems shocked at the new information. Sugar Ray says the girl might be alive but Exley wants to know where she is. Bud, listening outside, can't take it anymore and rushes in the room putting a gun in Sugar Ray's mouth while pinning him to the wall. He fires the gun into his mouth, although the chambers are empty. Sugar Ray gives up an address.

The cops, including Exley, Capt Smith, Bud and Vincennes head for the address. Bud gets out of the car and sneaks into the house on foot. The Captain insists on going in first, and everyone in the cars waits for him. Bud finds a girl beaten badly, tied to a bed and gagged. Seeing Bud, she indicates a direction  with her eyes which Bud follows. He finds a unarmed black man in his underwear watching cartoons and eating cereal. Bud shoots him before he can do anything, fires a shot at the wall and puts a gun in the man's hand.  Exley doesn't believe the situation, calling Bud on it. Bud tells Exley he should try going after criminals instead of cops. Exley remarks that Stensland got what he deserved which prompts Bud to charge at him before other officers hold him back. Capt. Smith advises Exley, "You should stay away from a man when his blood is up." Exley answers "His blood is always up." Capt. Smith suggest that he stay away from him altogether then.
A report comes in that the Nite Owl suspects have escaped custody. Exley follows up on information about the suspect's drug dealer. He grabs another officer for back up and they find the suspects at the dealer's address. Exley and the officer have them at gunpoint but Exley's back up fires when a bottle falls off a table sending everyone for their guns. The other cop is shot and one of the suspects runs. Exley chases but can't see well without his glasses. He fires out a doorway blindly and kills the last suspect. At the station he's congratulated, the captain calling him Shotgun Ed.

Vincennes meanwhile gets back to the set of "Badge of Honor" Lynn takes a client while we see that she knows Bud is watching in a car from the curb. A politician tells a messenger to tell Mr. Patchett he won't change his vote, and is then given pictures of himself with Lynn. The politician reverses his vote allowing Patchen to continue with a freeway project. Capt. Smith, accompanied by Bud and another officer is continuing his program of beating on mobsters to convince them to go home. This time Bud is not initially doing the beating, and doesn't seem interested. He takes off, causing the captain concern and goes back to watching Lynn's place, although this time he knocks on the door and they go to bed together.

Sid and Vincennes get a chance to talk at an election event for the DA, attended by the Badge of Honor crew. Sid asks Vincennes if he'd like payback on the DA, telling him that the DA is a "swish" Sid has arranged for Matt Reynolds, the star that Vincennes busted with pot earlier, to seduce the DA for $100.00 Reynolds doesn't even remember meeting Vincennes before and guesses they must have met at a "Fleur de Lis" party.  He tells Jack about the hookers that look like movie stars, also adding "Pierce Patchett has it all." Reynolds keeps chattering, telling Vincennes that he likes Pierce but is also afraid of him. Reynolds has reservations about the job, but Sid suggests that Jack can help him get a part on Badge of Honor if he pulls it off. Sid and Vincennes assure him that no one will know about it. Sid tells Vincennes the hotel where they'll meet later. He asks Sid what he knows about Pierce Patchett. Sid tells him Patchett's invested in the freeways.

Bud takes Lynn out to a movie. Vincennes goes to a bar and seems troubled by the $50.00 he took for the job, leaving the bill at the bar before heading to the hotel early. Rather than meet Sid, he goes directly there and knocks on the door telling Reynolds he doesn't have to do it. He's surprised to find Reynolds dead on the floor.

Exley is at the hospital talking to the woman that was held hostage. She thanks him for killing the men and asks him to thank Bud, stating that him coming in the door was all she remembers. She reveals that she might have played along with the story to see the men dead. Bud is in bed with Lynn, who tells him that she plans to return to Bisbee one day to open a dress shop. Lynn asks about Bud's scars and he tells her he tried to save his mother from his father.
Bud: When I was twelve my old man went after my mother with a bottle. i got in the way.
Lynn: So you saved her?
Bud: Not for long.
Lynn: I'm sorry. It's none of my business.
Bud: He tied me to a radiator. I watched him beat my mother to death with a tire iron, and he left me there. Three days before a truant officer found us. They never found the old man.
She asks if he likes being a cop and he tells her he's getting tired of the strong arm stuff and wants to get back to being a real cop, as he knows Exley shot the wrong guys. He feels there's something wrong with the Nite Owl case, but can't prove it. He says "I'm not smart enough. I'm just the guy they bring in to scare the other guy shitless." Lynn says "You're wrong. You found Patchett. You found me. You're smart enough."

Bud checks out the records and evidence on the Nite Owl case. He realizes that Stensland wasn't shot in the bathroom but dragged there afterwards and that he was sitting with someone. He visits Sue Leffert's mother who confirms that Stensland was her boyfriend that she didn't approve of. She recall Stensland having an argument and hearing a "ruckus" outside, and people kept going under the house. She then tells him not to mind the smell as she thought a rat died. Bud checks out the basement and finds Meeks' body.
Exley talks to the records clerk, asking about the Nite Owl case. He mentions that Bud was just asking the same things, remarking that Bud, is not as dumb as I thought." He finds the same thing as Bud at Mrs. Leffert's house, bringing the body in for ID since Bud took the wallet.

He directs the examiners to talk only to him about the results and approaches Vincennes for help. He askes Vincennes if he makes the dead suspects for the Nite Owl killings. Vincennes cautions him against digging deeper. Exley tells Vincennes "Rollo Tomasi." which means nothing to him.Exley explains "Rollo was a purse snatcher. My father ran into him off duty. He shot my father six times and got away clean. No one knew who he was. I made the name up to give him some personality."
Vincennes: What's your point?
Exley: Rollo Tomasi's the reason I became a cop. I wanted to catch the guys who thought they could get away with it. It was supposed to be about justice. Then somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that. Why'd you become a cop?
Vincennes: I don't remember. What do you want Exley?
Exley: I just want to solve this thing.
Vincennes: Nite Owl was solved.
Exley: No. I want to do it right.
Vincennes: Even if it means paying the consequences?
Vincennes: All right college boy. I'll help you. But there's a case your boys in Homicide don't care about. They think it's just another Hollywood homo-cide, but I don't. You help me with mine. I'll help you with yours.

Exley and Vincennes, in a car, see Bud walking into a Diner. Bud walks over to Johnny Stompanato and asks him about Buzz Meeks. Stompanato doesn't offer much information other than that Meeks was a run down ex cop. Bud exerts some force and Stompanato tells him of a rumor that Meeks had known of a large supply of "H" and then skipped out. They agree that even if Meeks had a line on it he would have no way to get rid of it, which Bud reasons has something to do with his death. Vincennes and Exley tail Bud and find out about Bud and Lynn. Exley remarks "We've got Rita Hayworth at the morgue and Veronica Lake wiith White."
Vincennes: I think your case and my case are connected. It's Fleur de Lis again.
Vincennes explains what he knows about it, including Pierce Patchett. Vincennes suggests they go see Patchett, but Exley insists on seeing Stompanato first. They find him with a Lana Turner lookalike, who Exley calls a hooker, only to realize she really is Lana Turner and get a glass of water in his face. This amuses them afterwards.

They visit Patchett next, who doesn't give them any information. Exley gets a call on the police radio that the coroner has his ID. He tells the dispatcher that Vincennes will be in to speak with him. He tells Vincennes he's going to talk to Lynn and find out why Patchett has her seeing Bud. Patchett makes a call as he sees their car live and we see Sid pick up the phone. Vincennes gets to the coroner and tells him it was Leland Meeks, who Vincennes had heard of as having a bad rep. Vincennes starts looking up Meeks arrest records.
Exley gets to Lynn's place. She tells him she knows all about him from Bud. He asks why Patchett has her seeing Bud, but she tells him she sees Bud on her own, because she sees the good in him and he makes her feel like her real self. She seduces him without any difficulty and we see that Sid is taking pictures from the window.

Vincennes visits Captain Smith at home at midnight and tells him he found out that Meeks and Stensland were partners working a case against Patchett years ago. They  thought that Patchett had Sid taking pictures of prominent people with hookers for blackmail purposes, but the case was dropped. Captain Smith was the supervising officer on the case and Vincennes wants to know what he remembers about it. Smith doesn't understand where these questions are from, so Vincennes tells him he's investigating a case with Exley privately. He says "I messed something up. I'm trying to make amends." Captain Smith says " Don't start trying to do the right thing, boyo. You haven't had the practice." Captain Smith realizes that Vincennes hasn't said anything about the information to Exley and shoots him in the heart. He ask Vincennes if he has a valediction. Vincennes says "Rollo...Tomasi..." and dies.

Capt Smith has teams scour the neighborhood where Vincennes body was found. At the briefing he pulls Exley aside and asks if he knows an associate of Vincennes, "Rollo Tomasi" Exley acts as if he's never heard the name, but clearly comes to a realization.Bud is asking another officer where someone would go to unload a lot of heroin, his questions are interrupted when Captain Smith calls him in the office. He mentions that he hasn't been his usual "cruel self" He tells Bud he needs him at the Victory Motel to brace the man who may know who killed Vincennes. Bud agrees of course.

Exley visits the coroner and gets the ID of the body. We see that Captain Smith has Sid tied up at the Motel. He has another officer hit Sid with every answer until he asks Sid about Pierce Patchett, and he asks Bud to convince him. He tells them that Patchett bankrolls B Movies and sniffs heroin sometimes. He mentions the call girls and blackmail revealing that he has pictures in his trunk from a job to photograph a "cop screwing this gorgeous slut named Lynn that looks like Veronica Lake." Bud loses it and yanks his chair out of the floor pulling the floor with it and beating Sid before they calm him down and he runs to the trunk to find pictures of Exley with Lynn. Bud takes off and Captain Smith says "I wouldn't trade places with Edmund Exley right now for all the whiskey in Ireland." Sid is still on the floor tied to the chair, complaining that they almost let Bud kill him. Sid sees Captain Smith put his gloves on and panics saying "We had a deal. Me and you and Patchett, we're a team." Capt. Smith smothers him, saying "Hush hush"

Exley is at the station looking for records on Meeks. We see that Bud stops at Lynn's place first. He's furious demanding to know what happened with Exley. She says "I thought I was helping you." and Bud slaps her twice and runs to his car. Bud finds Exley looking through files. Exley says he needs to show Bud something but Bud shows him a picture and starts beating him savagely. Exley manages to tell Bud about Captain Smith, but he still knocks him around a bit more. He calms down and tells Exley that he knew Stensland lied to him because of what he heard from Sue Leffert's mother and he remembered that Stensland pretended to have no real knowledge of Meeks or Leffert the night he saw them. He also tells Exley that he thinks Stensland killed Meeks over heroin. The two then figure out that Captain Smith's men planted the shotguns and would have killed the suspects if they hadn't showed up.

He also figures out that it's all connected to Vincenne's case. Exley tells Bud they'll need to work together.Bud agrees suggesting they go see the District Attorney. Exley tells the DA that he wants surveillance and tails on Patchett and Captain Smith, as well as access to check their bank records and wiretaps on their phones. He refuses and they mention the dead man in his hotel room. He tells them they have no proof. Bud then gets rough with him beating his head into a mirror and hanging him from a window until he admits that Patchett and Captain Smith had pictures which they used to keep him from interfering with the two of them taking over Mickey C.'s rackets. The guy he slept with was killed because he heard the deal. They leave the DA quivering on the floor and  go to Patchett's house next. They find him dead with a suicide note claiming that he killed Vincennes because he'd discovered one of his pornography operations. Assuming Captain Smith is tying up loose ends, Bud thinks they have to get to Lynn. Realizing another department is closer they call and have her picked up for protection. They tell the officers to hold her as Joan Smith. The officer at the scene tells them that somebody worked her over good, but she won't say who. Exley looks at Bud, realizing what happened. Bud suggests that Exley talk to lynn while he talks to Sid. Exley reminds him they need evidence. Exley tells Lynn that Bud hates himself for what he did, and she says "I know how he feels." She doesn't know anything about Captain Smith and tells Exley she'll be fine.

Bud finds Sid at his office dead and gets a notification that Exley wants to meet at the Victory Motel. He finds Exley there but Exley thinks that Bud called him. They quickly realize they've been set up but it's too late to leave as they're likely surrounded already. Bud and Exley grab guns. They go inside the motel and barricade themselves in. Exley takes a shot at a figure in the window and bullets start pouring in the Motel from all directions.

Exley and Bud stay low until they hear a window breaking behind a mattress which they pull down to shoot the guy. Bud finds a crawlspace under the floor and shoots some guys from there, while Exley moves from window to window shooting who he can. Exley gets shot, and two men close in on him but Bud shoots them both, coming up out of the crawlspace. Bud checks on Exley who says he's alright. Everything outside seems quiet, but Bud sees Captain Smith come in the main door and pushes Exley out of the way taking the shot from Captain Smith himself.

Bud keeps advancing anyway and Smith shoots him again and points his gun at Exley, who says "Rollo Tomasi." Captain Smith asks "Who is he?"
Exley: You are. You're the guy who gets away with it. Jack knew it. And so do I. Captain Smith is about to shoot Exley when Bud reaches up and stabs him in the leg with a knife. Captain Smith shoots him again, but Exley has the time to pull a shotgun on him. He asks "You gonna shoot me, or arrest me? Good lad, always the politician. Let me do the talking, after I'm done they'll make you Chief of Detectives." Captain Smith starts to walk outside and Exley looks at Bud and follows Smith out. Smith tells him "Hold up your badge so they'll know you're a policeman." holding up his own as he walks towards the road, hearing sirens coming in from everywhere. Exley shoots him in the back with the shotgun and then holds up his badge as the cruisers arrive.

We see Exley at the station being interrogated. He starts telling the whole story, which causes the DA to remark that he's throwing his whole career away. The Commissioner and DA discuss the damage it will do to the department and consider making Dudley Smith a hero. Exley tells them they'll need more than one. We see Exley getting another medal and Captain Smith recognized as a hero in the papers. Exley sees Lynn in the audience and follows her outside. She brings him to her car where she has Bud in the back, with lots of bandages. Exley tells Bud, "Thanks for the push." and Bud nods offering his hand. They shake and Exley takes a moment with Lynn who tells him "Some men get the world, others get ex hookers and a trip to Arizona." Exley watches them drive away.


Written said...

It's been a long time since I watched this film. Your article makes me want to see it again. Great stuff!

INDBrent said...

Wonderful! So glad you enjoyed it and happy viewing!

Unknown said...

Excellent look at this great film. What's even more amazing about it is just how well Brian Hegleland and Curtis Hanson were able to distill the core elements of James Ellroy's novel without gutting it entirely. They really captured the spirit of it and remained true to the core characters. As I watched the film for the first time, the actors they cast were very close to how they imagined them in the novel, esp. the 3 main cops and Dudley. Amazing stuff. This is a film I watch at least once a year and never tire of it.

INDBrent said...

Thank you J.D.! I watch this one on a regular basis too. They really do get the hardboiled aspect across much better than most movies in this vein. It's very deep character work for the relatively short time we have with them!

Emm said...

This was such a great film! I remember thinking it was on par with The Usual Suspects and not only because of Kevin Spacey.

Great write up!

Unknown said...

Great write up, this was a truly excellent film. Russell Crowe reminded me bit of Burt Lancaster's tough guy roles and I loved Guy Pearce as Exley.

It was a tightly written script with many layers and I have seen it several times. The ending gets me every time. I think I might have to again thanks to your post.

INDBrent said...

Thanks Melissa! Hope you did give it another viewing. It is one film that continues to satisfy. I like your Lancaster comparison. Burt is really the epitome of the old school Hollywood tough guy to me and I agree Russell's character was from that same mold (which we don't see too often anymore)