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Matt Bolton

Netflix movie of the day: LA Confidential is still a perfect period police thriller

LA Confidential.

LA Confidential has always been a cable classic. If you come across it, you're always going to just watch this next bit, because it's good… oh, and then it's that bit, and actually it's all so good, and now 90 minutes has passed. And it works just as well as one of the best Netflix movies – you just might start at the start instead 20 minutes in or whenever you happened to come across it. Got a few hours to kill and a Netflix subscription? LA Confidential is always a good idea.

If you are the lucky person who hasn't seen it yet, it's a perfect piece of pulp adapted from a James Ellroy novel. As with most sprawling Ellroy novels, a huge amount had to be cut to get it into movie form, but what's impressive here is how much complexity has been retained. The story follows the investigation of a brutal murder spree in a café, which initially looks like it'll be an open-and-shut case after a short investigation – but it quickly becomes a much larger and more complex affair that pulls in police officers, a dirty journalist, a high-class call girl and her well-connected 'pimp', a politician, and a TV star.

Guy Pearce plays ambitious detective Edmund Exley, who's hated by other cops for his stiff manner and by-the-book approach – but it's that attitude which means he can't let this case go. Russell Crowe plays Exley's fellow detective Bud White, an extremely blunt instrument who puts the 'force' in 'law enforcement', and whose quest for vengeance means he ends up going in the same direction as Exley.

Kevin Spacey plays the celebrity-chasing and sleazy Jack Vincennes, whose guilt leads him towards the same conspiracy from a different angle, and Kim Basinger plays call girl Lynn Bracken, who represents the beautiful front but hollow glamor of Hollywood. The supporting cast is a murderer's row of talent, including James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn and Ron Rifkin.

Despite being filled with corruption, cruelty, and immorality, I find it a weirdly comforting movie to watch, like so many of these crime cable classics (see also: Heat), with the moral arc of the seedy 1950s universe bending towards heroes with shotguns during tense motel standoffs.

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