Smoky, bathed in brilliant Southern California sunshine, glitteringly shallow and deeply corrupt, novelist James Ellroy's Los Angeles comes to life in this adaptation of the third entry in his densely plotted "L.A. Quartet," in which the movie industry,
corrupt cops, tabloid journalism, gangsters and sexual obsessions of every stripe are woven into a dreamy vision of a poisonous but achingly irresistible city of the mind. Three of the LAPD's finest take center stage: Bud White (Russell Crowe) is a tormented brute, a natural-born enforcer troubled
by a certain innate decency and the raging need (born, of course, of childhood trauma) to beat the bejesus out of guys who smack women around. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is the smooth operator, a gimlet-eyed sharpie and technical adviser to TV's "Badge of Honor" (read: Dragnet), a weekly
paean to the police force and Vincennes' direct line to the reflected glamour of Hollywood. And second-generation cop Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce) has a politician's opportunistic instincts, but rejects the "go along to get along" attitude that fosters vicious brutality on the force. They all get
caught up in a spectacularly messy murder case that's way uglier and dirtier than any of them imagines; breaking it unleashes a tidal wave of sleaze that sweeps them right off their feet. Narcotics, pornography, blackmail, hookers surgically reshaped in the image of movie stars and a pioneering
scandal rag called "Hush-Hush" are all part of the deliriously sordid mix. Spacey's Vincennes is the standout in a just about flawless ensemble, and director Curtis Hanson keeps the hugely complicated story zooming along the boulevard of broken dreams without losing sight of the details that make
the trip worthwhile.
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