There’s a throw-away line in one of my favorite movies, “L. A. Confidential.” Finally that line hit home last night while watching the film for maybe the 10th time. That the line is about Arizona, where I live, makes it all the more amazing I never got it, never understood why “Confidential” is ultimately so unfulfilling.
The line comes out of a tender scene, the pillow talk after sex. The brutal detective, Wendell “Bud” White, is lying in bed with the Veronica Lake look-alike, Lynn Bracken. It is a homey moment. Bud is checking out Lynn’s “Arizona pillow,” the one with “Bisbee” and “Phoenix” on it along with the state flag.
Bud (Russell Crowe) strangely asks Lynn (Kim Basinger) about Bisbee but not Phoenix.
“I grew up there,” she says. “I’m going back in a couple of years, open up a dress shop.” Pause. Them smiling, “The girls of Bisbee need a little glamour.”
How sweet. But what does all that nonsense have to do with a film about police corruption in Los Angeles? Nothing. It was the director, Curtis Hanson, wanting to inject romance into a story where romance clearly was not needed.
At best, Lynn Bracken should have been a minor character, and in the end got her ass killed off like just about everyone else in the film. But here again Hollywood’s fear of a box-office bust came into play. They wanted insurance the movie would make money. Enter Kim Basinger who, while truly beautiful, is no Bisbee girl. She could never return to the little sleepy town southeast of Tucson to live happily ever-after with Bud. She’s there for one reason. To draw customers.
The love angle was a distraction and led to a silly, sputtering end that didn’t make sense.
Why not keep it simple and focused? Like “Jaws,” when director Steven Spielberg chucked the novelist Peter Benchley’s love story for a direct approach: Man vs. Shark.
Too bad. For the longest time “Confidential” (1997) was almost up there with Roman Polansky’s “Chinatown,” probably the best-made American movie of my time.