Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

L.A. Confidential (1997)


Written by Tim Dirks

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Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

L.A. Confidential (1997)

In director Curtis Hanson's great neo-noir police-crime drama about corruption and sleazy tabloid reporting in the early 50s, derived from James Ellroy's 1990 novel, it told about the very different approaches of three LA cops in the pursuit of justice; from its nine Academy Award nominations, it earned two Oscars: Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger) and Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • in the film's opening, sleazy, tell-all tabloid Hush Hush magazine editor-publisher Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) described how Los Angeles had become a hot-bed of organized crime gangs competing for dominance: "You'd think this place was the garden of Eden, but there's trouble in paradise, and his name is Myer Harris Cohen - Mickey C. to his fans, local L.A. color to the nth degree and his number one bodyguard, Johnny Stompanato. 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?"; a vacuum would surely be left following the arrest of Mickey C. for tax evasion
  • beat officer Sgt. Dick "Stens" Stensland (Graham Beckel) and his partner - violent, hot-headed, tough cop Sgt. Wendell 'Bud' White (Russell Crowe), were working together on a parole violation case of domestic abuse; they quickly and efficiently handcuffed a husband-parolee wife beater (Allan Graf) during an altercation with his wife (Precious Chong)
  • Sid Hudgens was in cahoots with a slick narcotics detective named Sgt. Jack "Hollywood Jack" Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) - a gossip-mongering, suave, technical advisor for the TV police drama series Badge of Honor; Hudgens provided the on-the-take detective with kickbacks in exchange for keeping him informed about celebrity-related arrests; they also participated together in high-profile arrests (of cheating individuals) for Sid's scandalous publication, often due to incriminating photos
  • in an LA police station on Christmas Eve, young, clean-cut, straight-arrow, college-educated, neophyte patrolman cop Lieut. Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce) was introduced as the night's watch commander; his father was legendary, famed cop-father Preston Exley who had been shot and killed by an unidentified purse-snatcher in the line of duty ("Must be a hard act to follow"); Exley was joined by veteran cop and LAPD Police Chief Capt. Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), who asked about his intentions after scoring high marks on his exams: ("What'll it be then? Patrol Division? Internal Affairs? What?"); Exley responded that he wanted to enter the Detective Bureau, an idea that displeased Smith; Exley responded "No," when he was asked if he would plant evidence, beat a confession out of a suspect, or shoot a suspect in the back to prevent the system from letting him go - a foreshadowing of the film's climactic ending
  • after buying booze at a liquor store with Stensland that same evening (Christmas Eve), Officer Bud White gave a friendly "Merry Christmas" greeting to a Veronica Lake look-alike - later identified as a high-class hooker named Lynn Bracken (Oscar-winning Kim Basinger); outside in a parked car, Bud confronted the suspicious driver of her vehicle (with another nose-injured, bandaged female inside the car) - ex-cop Leland "Buzz" Meeks (Darrell Sandeen), but found that he had a permitted gun license; Meeks was later revealed to be working for another male in the car - the leader of a pornography business and high-end Fleur-de-Lis call-girl ring - millionaire Pierce Morehouse Patchett (David Strathairn); Lynn Bracken was being pimped by Patchett, who specialized in providing movie-star look-alike prostitutes (after plastic surgery)
  • back at the LA police station, Sgt. Vincennes entered and offered a cash deal for Lieut. Exley; he promised: ("You help me with mine, I'll help you with yours - deal?"); Exley refused: "No thanks, Jack. You keep your payoff. I'm not interested"
  • handcuffed Mexicans were brought into the downstairs area of the station, accused of beating up two police officers; Vincennes wrongly claimed that one lost 6 pints of blood, and one was in a coma, after being corrected by Exley; another report was that one assaulted officer lost an eye and the other was receiving his last rites
  • drunk officers led by Stensland incited other members of the LAPD (including Bud White), in the so-called 'Bloody Christmas' incident (fictionalized in the film but an actual occurrence on Christmas Day, 1951 in Los Angeles), to severely beat the suspects during their lock-up; by-the-book rookie Lieut. Exley protested against and denounced the brutalizing actions of the officers: ("Stop officer, that's an order"), but he was pushed aside and locked in a cell
  • the next day's LA Times headlines with illustrations read: BLOODY CHRISTMAS: Police Assault Prisoners in Jailhouse Melee"; subsequently, although requested to testify by the DA, Chief Smith, and the Police Commissioner, Bud White refused to testify, and he was suspended from duty; however, Exley offered to provide testimony in the case, in exchange for his goal to advance and be promoted in the ranks; as a result, Officer Stensland was fired; Exley also called White a "mindless thug"; from then on, White became contemptuous and determined to get back at Exley for ratting out his fellow officer, and others in the Department also despised Exley for being a snitch; Vincennes warned: "Bud White will f--k you for this if it takes the rest of his life"
  • later that night in a bar, Capt. Smith conversed with Bud and commended him for his hatred of woman-beaters and injustice, and his sometimes violent approach toward his job; he then returned his badge and gun and hired him to be his secret 'muscle': ("You'll do what I say and ask no questions") - to forcefully eliminate competition from LA organized crime boss-mobster Mickey Cohen
  • at a bloody multiple homicide scene after a shoot-out in LA's downtown Nite Owl Coffee shop, the bodies of six murdered victims were discovered, including Officer Stensland; Bud arrived at the scene and realized that one of the females was the nose-bandaged female he had seen in the car; Capt. Smith announced he would handle the case of 'robbery,' and that "three negro juveniles" - with shotguns earlier in the park - were the leading suspects; Smith assigned Exley to handle interrogations
  • during Bud White's own investigation of the massacre, he was led to the estate of Pierce Patchett (one of the men in the car on Xmas eve), who identified the victim in the Nite Owl killings as one of his escorts, Susan Lefferts (Amber Smith) who had a bandaged nose due to plastic surgery (because acc. to Patchett, he "needed a Rita Hayworth"); Bud was also told that the driver, Meeks, no longer worked for Patchett; he also stated that Lynn was his Veronica Lake look-alike (White: "Patchett's running whores cut to look like movie stars"); Bud was given Lynn's address, and Patchett also offered him a reward for finding the killer
  • at Lynn Bracken's place, Bud interrupted her in the company of a client; he warned the attractive blonde against bribing or threatening him; she remarked: "You have a thing for helping women, don't you?"; during their conversation, she complimented him: (Bracken: "You're different, Officer White. You're the first man in five years who didn't tell me l look like Veronica Lake inside of a minute." White: "You look better than Veronica Lake"); although he wouldn't admit it, Bud was immediately infatuated with her
  • three black suspects in custody were arrested by Exley and Vincennes (including Sugar Ray Collins (Jeremiah Birkett)), and possibly involved in the Nite Owl murders; the officers specifically questioned them about the whereabouts of a kidnapped female victim who was possibly still alive: ("Son, six people are dead, and someone has to pay for it. Now, it can be you, or it can be Ray...Son, you know what's gonna happen to you if you don't talk. You'll go to the gas chamber. So for God's sake, admit what you did...These people are all in the morgue. They were dead when you left them...Louis, who's the girl, what's her name?...Was she at the Nite Owl?...Now, listen to me. lf that girl is still alive, she's the only chance you've got....Where is she now?")
  • during the intense interrogation scene, brutal-acting, frustrated cop Bud White burst into the room, pulled out his gun, emptied it of all but one bullet, and then stuck the gun in Sugar Ray's mouth while pulling the trigger and threatening: "One in six, where's the girl?" - he was promptly given the address

Tough Cop Wendell 'Bud' White (Russell Crowe)

Gun-Blasting Interrogation of One of the Three Black Suspects Regarding the Nite Owl Murders
  • Exley, Capt Smith, Bud and Vincennes approached the address-location; Bud rescued the kidnapped, bound and gagged, and abused female victim Inez Soto (Marisol Padilla Sanchez) before shooting one unarmed black suspect holding her hostage; then, the cops received word that the black suspects (of the Nite Owl murders) had escaped from policy custody; during a bloody takedown-raid on the three escaped gang members, the suspects were killed by Exley in the shootout at a drug dealer's address; with a blood-splattered face, Exley received a new nickname: "Shotgun Ed"
  • meanwhile, Bud had become obsessed with Lynn Bracken, stalked her, visited her place, and went to bed with her
  • a scandalous scheme was devised by Sid Hudgens (with Vincennes' knowledge) to set up struggling actor Matt Reynolds (Simon Baker), who had earlier been busted for possessing pot by Vincennes; for a payment of $100 dollars, he agreed to engage in a homosexual tryst with LA's District Attorney Ellis Loew (Ron Rifkin) in a hotel; the set-up was designed to publically humiliate Loew so that he would lose the next election; however, it ended in disaster when Reynolds was found dead in the hotel room
  • the rescued rape survivor testified to Exley that the rapists were with her the entire night of the Nite Owl massacre, thus they had not been involved; further evidence seemed to point to the corrupt LAPD and its police chief as the perpetrators of a major cover-up in their attempt to seize control of the lucrative drug trade in the city by beating up, intimidating and eliminating outsiders
  • Bud suspected that Exley had shot the wrong guys and that there was something suspicious about the Nite Owl murders; Bud visited Mrs. Lefferts (Gwenda Deacon), the mother of Susan Lefferts - the escort and female victim at the Nite Owl; according to her (and her strong disapproval), deceased Officer Stensland was her daughter's boyfriend; White discovered the stinking and rotting body of Patchett's employee Meeks under the Lefferts' house; it was later discovered that Meeks had stolen heroin (H) from the mob and was trying to sell it on the open market, and was therefore eliminated
  • at the same time, Exley was also becoming suspicious of the botched Nite Owl case, and told Vincennes of his concerns; Exley mentioned the term: "Rollo Tomasi" and then explained how he had created the name to represent a criminal who escaped justice - the killer who had murdered his father: ("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")
  • Exley and Vincennes tailed after Bud, and realized that he was with Lynn: (Exley: "We've got Rita Hayworth at the morgue and Veronica Lake wiith White"); when the two were on the search to discover why Meeks was killed, in a bar, the cops mistook the real Lana Turner (Brenda Bakke) for high-priced prostitute Lynn Bracken, and she threw her drink in Exley's face: (Vincennes scolded Exley: "She is Lana Turner!")
  • Exley visited Lynn and she easily seduced him; Lynn found herself in a dangerous love triangle, having now had sex with both Bud White and Exley; to hinder the investigation into some of Patchett's own colleagues, the porn king had dispatched Hudgens to take compromising sexual photos of Exley with Lynn for blackmail purposes
  • in the film's most stunning scene, at midnight, Vincennes visited the home of diabolical LAPD police chief Capt. Dudley Smith, and as they spoke in Smith's kitchen, Vincennes admitted that he had uncovered evidence of Smith's own corruption that went back 10 years when he was partnered with Meeks and Stensland; at the time, they had dropped an case against Patchett (who was having Hudgens take incriminating photos of prominent people for blackmailing and extortion) - revealing that they were already collaborating with the porn kingpin; when Vincennes explained his motivations to privately seek answers: "I messed something up. I'm trying to make amends," Capt. Smith reprimanded him: "Don't start trying to do the right thing, boyo. You haven't had the practice"; Capt. Smith realized that Vincennes knew too much, and then shockingly and unexpectedly shot him in the chest; after shooting Vincennes who slumped to the floor, Capt. Smith leaned over and asked: "Have you a valediction, boyo?"; he heard the words 'Rollo Tomasi' - identifying Capt. Smith as the unpunished mastermind; after the shooting death of Vincennes, Smith moved Vincennes' body to Echo Park as part of his cover-up
The Point-Blank Murder of Sgt. Vincennes by LAPD Capt. Smith: Sgt. Vincennes' Last Words: "Rollo Tomasi"
  • although both White and Exley jealously fought over the affections of Lynn Bracken, they both realized that their main target was Capt. Smith for his involvement in multiple dirty deeds, and they began to piece things together: (1) Stensland killed Meeks over the stolen heroin; (2) the Nite Owl killings were an excuse for Capt. Smith to get rid of Stensland, (3) the three black suspects were framed by Capt. Smith's planted evidence of shotguns, (4) the D.A. was prevented from interfering with them taking over Mickey C.'s rackets and the heroin drug trade (Patchett was a heroin user), due to incriminating photos taken by Hudgens of the D.A. with Reynolds, (5) Reynolds was killed because he overheard the D.A.'s complicit deal with Smith, and (6) to clean up loose ends, Capt. Smith smothered Hudgens to death, and Patchett was also killed (although he was found with a suicide note claiming that he killed Vincennes because he'd discovered one of his pornography operations)
  • during an ambush at the abandoned Victory Motel, there was a brutal shootout of the two cops (who were set-up) against Smith and his hit-men; officer White and Smith were both shot and wounded multiple times, although they were able to eliminate everyone except Smith; the Captain approached Sgt. Exley with his gun pointed at him; Exley mentioned the two words: 'Rollo Tomasi'; the Captain paused and asked ("Who is he?"); Exley explained how the Police Chief was the corrupt mastermind crime boss: ("You are. You're the guy who gets away with it. Jack knew it. And so do I") - the metaphoric term denoted the corrupt police chief as the perfect example of a criminal who was able to escape punishment and literally get away with murder
  • although shot another time, Bud prevented Exely from being executed by reaching up and stabbing Smith in the leg with a knife, as Exley grabbed a shotgun; Capt. Smith brazenly asked: "You gonna shoot me, or arrest me?" Exley followed Smith outside, and when the tables were turned, Exley murdered Capt. Smith in the back as he walked away from the Victory Motel, with his hands in the air holding his badge; the killing recalled Capt. Smith's earlier advice to Exley, that a detective should be willing to shoot a guilty man in the back for the greater good
  • afterwards, Exley confessed to superiors that the Nite Owl Coffee Shop's multiple (six) murders were most likely conducted by LAPD officers Michael Breuning and William Carlisle, and a third individual, presumably Capt. Smith; indeed, Smith's corrupt motivation was to take over Mickey Cohen's criminal enterprise - described in Exley's account: "Beginning with the incarceration of Mickey Cohen, Capt. Smith has been assuming control of organized crime in Los Angeles. This includes the assassinations of an unknown number of Mickey Cohen lieutenants, the systematic blackmail of city officials, and the murders of Susan Lefferts, Pierce Patchett, Sid Hudgens, and Sergeant Jack Vincennes"
  • ironically but true to form in the subsequent cover-up,, Capt. Smith was remembered dying as a "hero," and a compromised, opportunistic Exley was awarded a Medal of Valor - to avoid controversy, and to prevent a stain on the reputation of the LAPD. At the ceremony, Exley was lauded: ("With leaders like Lieut. Edmund Exley, the image of fat cops stealing apples will be left behind, and Los Angeles will finally have the police force it deserves")

Exley Awarded Medal of Valor Ceremony

Lynn Bracken's Departure and Final Goodbye Words to Exley
  • in the concluding scene - seriously-injured but surviving Officer White (sitting mute in the back seat) departed with Lynn Bracken, on her way home to Arizona after quitting the high-class whore business; as Lynn departed and kissed Exley, she told him (in the film's last line): ("Some men get the world. Others get ex-hookers and a trip to Arizona. Bye")

Ed Exley Ordering Other LAPD Officers to Quit Assaulting Mexicans in Custody: "Stop officer"

The Next Day: "Bloody Christmas" Headlines

Nite Owl Coffee Shop Massacre: Multiple Homicides

Hush Hush Magazine Editor-publisher Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito)

Veronica Lake Look-Alike Hooker Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger)

Rescue of Kidnapped and Abused Female Inez Soto (Marisol Padilla Sanchez)

Exley Involved in Bloody Raid and Take-Down of Black Suspects - Nicknamed "Shotgun Ed"

The 'Real' Lana Turner Mistaken for Lynn Bracken

LAPD Capt. Smith (James Cromwell) Shooting and Wounding Officer White (Russell Crowe)

Exley's Murder of Capt. Smith

Exley's Truthful Accounting of the Corrupt LAPD


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