Werth: Wasn't Peter Lawford's house at that intersection?
Wise: While on a liquor run for the precinct Christmas party, tough guy LAPD Detective Bud White (Russell Crowe) encounters glamorous Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) who bears a striking resemblance to Hollywood noir moll Veronica Lake, and later discovers that she's part of a ring of high class hookers dolled up to look like stars. Meanwhile, smarmy Detective Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), who acts as technical adviser to the square cop drama Badge of Honor (obviously a burlesque of Dragnet), gets a tip from gossip rag publisher Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) and busts a starlet and her beau for pot possession amid a blaze of flashbulbs.
Back at the precinct, by-the-books sergeant Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) rats on his fellow cops against the advice of his Captain (James Cromwell) in a bid to advance his career.
Werth: So many juicy plot threads—so many fine character actors.
Wise: The three men eventually discover they're all following the same trail of corruption and reluctantly join forces. Together they uncover a web of dirty dealings and backroom alliances that threatens both the Hollywood mythos and the good standing of the LAPD.
Werth: It's enough dirt to fill even the tawdriest celeb-news rag.
Wise: Hollywood obviously loved this lurid self portrait because L.A. Confidential garnered nine Oscar noms—Basinger took the prize for Best Supporting Actress while director Curtis Hanson and his collaborator Brian Helgeland won Best Adapted Screenplay. That adulation, I think, comes from Hanson's carefully calibrated balance of trash and tinsel, where even the worst offenders look great in close-up.
Wise: At least they look fabulous throughout the histrionics.
Wise: Enough to buy dolls and a wig for Susan Hayward.
Patty Duke as starry-eyed performer Neely O'Hara gets to go from ambitious, hard-working singer to drug-addicted bitch and back again with real verve.
Susan Hayward as old school Broadway belter Helen Lawson almost makes you forget that Judy Garland was originally supposed to play the role.