L.A. Confidential: Noir and Nostalgia – Curtis Hanson (A Tribute)

Curtis Hanson passed away on 20th September this year, as of this writing it has been a day since his death and it is deeply saddening for everyone who has enjoyed his work, particularly L.A. Confidential and 8 Mile among his films, as well as his later work in TV.

Hanson would later retire from moviemaking, he became diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and died of natural causes at his Hollywood Hills home, he was 71 years old.
Many people who have collaborated with Hanson in the past such as Russell Crowe, Rob Lowe, and Eminem have paid tribute to him on Twitter and in interviews.

There’s a wonderful interview that the A.V. Club did with Hanson, a great resource to get a better impression of the man. He was a photojournalist and editor for Cinema magazine, although clearly passionate for photography and film it was always more of a hobby for him. Later he would come under Roger Corman’s wing, working for director Sam Fuller, doing some screenwriting.

Hanson gained popularity with L.A. Confidential which saw him win critical acclaim, a success at the box-office and nominated in several categories at the Academy Awards. Kim Basinger won Best Supporting Actress and Hanson along with co-writer Brian Helgeland won Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay). Hanson would go on to find more success in future movies like Wonder Boys, 8 Mile, HBO production Too Big to Fail, and so on.

Curtis Hanson, Eminem 8 Mile

Just like when I paid tribute to Robin Hardy, where I spoke about his most famous work, I want to take a moment to talk about L.A. Confidential. As we all know movies don’t have a value tagged to them, every movie is significant for a number of reasons, and while I honestly couldn’t tell you if there was a better Curtis Hanson movie to talk about, it’s one of my favourite crime noir, Los Angeles set films, and my favourite of his work.

L.A. Confidential is an incredibly important piece for a number of reasons, for one it was the movie that introduced everyone to Russell Crowe where we got a terrifying and vicious portrayal of a cop called Bud White willing to play dirty but with his own moral values. Also Guy Pearce who plays a by the book but distant cop Exley, and unlike the traditional hard boiled detectives of the past; he seems lanky, meagre and certainly couldn’t hold his own in a fistfight.

This one-two punch of Australian talent is what makes the film at the story that primarily revolves around the pair’s rivalry, both in their jobs and in their attraction to Kim Basinger. Basinger plays a prostitute who ends up taking on a more matronly role, taking care of Crowe, calming his anger with love and empathy, and later becoming a source of conflict between the lead cops.

L.A. Confidential Cast

Rounding out the cast to make it a great ensemble is Kevin Spacey, because who doesn’t want to put him in every movie, he is so fervent as the high ranking, Hollywood flashy looking popular cop, it’s so easy to like him. Danny DeVito is put to wonderful use as a sleazy publisher who’s always trying to score any bit of gossip he can get to fill his trashy tabloid magazine Hush-Hush with edgy but throwaway news just for the attention. Finally James Cromwell who plays one of his best roles as the corrupt police captain who ends up being behind a scheme to take over Mickey Cohen’s heroin empire. A great performance because his usual warm demeanour as seen in the movie Babe is subverted to reveal the dirty underbelly beneath L.A.’s police force.

The other bit of brilliance of the movie is how it blends a lot of the same conventions in traditional noir stories and hand picks what it wants to toy around with – like Cromwell’s corrupt captain – and which ones they want to keep relatively unchanged if not updated for a newer audience. The hooker with a heart of gold may have been done at this point but Basinger sells the role with a more pragmatic yet caring approach.

The drugs, the suits, all the different 1950s style and affectation is restored meticulously and makes it look fresh and new. But countering all the different looks the movie has are the occasional dips into a realistic and cold depiction of the horrors of drug addiction and crime. The work done by the sound department must be commended because of how they get all the cars and ambience of ’50s done to such an immersive degree. Plus, those gun sound effects, when the action kicks up in the film you feel the suspense and the shock when a shotgun blasts a guy apart.

Curtis Hanson, Kim Basinger L.A. Confidential

With L.A. Confidential Curtis Hanson showed just how versatile of a director he was, he could convincingly depict an era of time. He could direct actors to get the best performance out of them. This is also where his writing skills come in because he clearly gets how a story needs to be structured, heightening the highs and dropping way down for the lows, and for writing such clear cut characters who can have depth and whose depth is broadened with the actors. He could direct action, he could direct romance and even humour, he could direct anything!

What is so obvious with this film, and what he states in the A.V. Club interview is that Los Angeles and the time the movie was set in was important to him, he was very nostalgic for that time. Also he simply loved movies, he was as much a fan of the movies as he was an artist making them and everyone will remember him for that very passion he had for places, for the things he cared about, and the way he put that into his work.