L.A. Confidential is a noir drama starring (deep breath) Russel Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Matt McCoy, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, Ron Rifkin, and lots of lots of other people.
The plot is dense and involved, but in brief: The cops of LA in the 1950s are, like the cops of today, corrupt, racist, and insular. After the arrest of Mickey Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle), LA has a power vacuum in its organized crime, and a police captain named Smith (Cromwell) steps up to assume control. In doing so, he kicks off a cascade of murder, which eventually leads to three cops in different departments with radically different beliefs and approaches - and who are pretty corrupt in their own ways - to try and unravel it.
Edmund Exley (Pearce) is the son of a corrupt detective who wants to make a name for himself. He tries to play everything by the book, and ultimately his integrity wins out, but he's a political opportunist and kind of a dick. Bud White (Crowe) is a tough cop who has no patience for little things like "procedure" or "not murdering people and setting it up to look like self-defense," but he focuses his rage on people who beat women (he watched his own father beat his mother to death). Jack Vicennes (Spacey) works narcotics and loves it, but his real passion is working in Hollywood as a technical adviser.
The three of them become embroiled in the larger conspiracy, but they spend much of the movie moving around each other, furthering their own agendas, until finally they spot the convergence points (by which point Smith has already murdered Vincennes).
I enjoy this movie quite a bit; I love neo-noir and I love detective stories, and this is a pretty great example of genre. There are more than 80 named characters, meaning it can get difficult to keep everyone straight, but that's actually good - it helps explain why the cops missed details that seem pretty obvious if you're viewing them as the audience. And, as befits the genre, no one's clean. Even the "good guys" are dicks in their own way, and the final resolution isn't pretty, clean, or just. The truth never comes out. About the best we can hope for is that Exley eventually takes charge and cleans things up...but it's pretty unlikely.
The movie doesn't do much with women; most of them are victims. Basinger plays a prostitute made up to look like Veronica Lake, and does a good job of portraying a woman still trying to cling to her desire for glamour and fame and Hollywood, even amidst her rather tarnished reality.
It'd be interesting to write a GUMSHOE game that took inspiration from this movie, actually.
My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium
Next up: Labyrinth