20 Movies: Kagemusha (1980)

This is a review I wrote a few years ago when I first picked up the DVD of Kagemusha and saw it for the second time, some twenty years after first seeing it. I think I might write something quite different today.

Somewhere on my computer I have a post about old black and white movies and “foreign” films and how, in certain ways, they involve cognitive barriers we have to get past to enjoy the movie. In the case of Kagemusha, it would be the language, Japanese (unless, of course, you speak Japanese). You don’t understand the language; you follow subtitles. That creates a barrier of sorts that you have to adjust to.

Kagemusha is one of the first movies of the subtitles kind that I saw and probably the first where the adjusting was almost non-existent. It was so visually brilliant I was enthralled from the start. Prior to Kagemusha, my movie experience was almost exclusively Hollywood. I’m still essentially a Hollywood formed viewer but it is probably Akira Kurosawa more than any other director that brought me into a world of film beyond the restrictive Hollywood definition.

Kagemusha (1980)
directed by Akira Kurosawa

I probably saw the movie Kagemusha first back in 1980 or 1981, when it was first released in North America with 20 minutes removed from the film Akira Kurosawa made. At the time, it knocked me for a loop.

It was the first Kurosawa movie I had seen. It was also the first samurai film I had seen. I don’t recall many other movies that so impressed me visually. Also, back then, my cinematic references were almost entirely western, as in Hollywood, with maybe a few Fellini films tossed in the mix.

So here was a colourful samurai movie in Japanese with English subtitles. Going in, I was a bit trepidatious. Going out, I was ga-ga.

That was more than twenty years ago. I’ve not seen Kagemusha since, not till last night when I watched the Criterion DVD – Kurosawa’s fully restored, 180 minute version in a transfer that is outstanding.

In those intervening twenty odd years I’ve seen many more kinds of film, many more samurai films and many more Akira Kurosawa films, including some of his non-samurai movies like Ikiru.

So the virgin quality of my first experience of Kagemusha is gone; it’s visual impact has been lessened in that sense. On the other hand, while no expert I’m still a bit more visually conversant than I was then, a bit more attentive and aware, not so impressed by something that looks “cool.” In that sense, the visual impact of the movie has been heightened.

The movie is about a thief, one condemned to die by crucifixion, but is spared because he looks so much like the leader of the Takeda clan, Shingen. It is Shingen’s brother who has discovered the thief’s resemblance, the same brother who has also been acting as Shingen’s double (a kagemusha) as a strategic tool in their conflict with other clans.

The thief does become a kagemusha for the Takeda leader but then Shingen is mortally wounded by a sniper. Before he dies, Shingen makes his final wish known – to not reveal the fact of his death until three years after he has died and to use that time to pull back and consolidate the Takeda position.

The thief then becomes a kagemusha for Shingen in earnest. He does it so well, he fools almost all and thus makes the other clans uncertain – fearful of Shingen and confused about his intentions.

As the film evolves, it becomes a meditation on the nature of power and of leaders while at the same time moving forward with a tragic, inexorable determination.

I’m struck by several things about Kagemusha (including how long the movie is). I suppose more than anything I’m taken by how controlled and deliberate it seems, how managed each shot is.

It begins with the very first scene. It’s a fairly lengthy one where the warrior Shingen and his brother (who has acted as Shingen’s double in the past) first meet the kagemusha (“double” or “shadow” – hence the film’s title sometimes being referred to as Kagemusha: the Shadow Warrior).

The scene is a single, static shot – no cuts, no camera movement. The actors sit Japanese style on the floor and are exactingly positioned to compose the shot. They make a set of three elements placed deliberately in the foreground – two (the brothers) are centre and left. Of the two, one (Shingen, in the middle) is slightly above. The third characer or element, the kagemusha, is off to the right, also below the middle element, Shingen.

This composition of three, or variations of it, occurs over and over throughout the movie. (If I recall correctly, we also see it used in the opening of his next movie, Ran.)

Other than simply liking this kind of composition, I’m not sure what significance it has for Kurosawa. For me, however, it communicates order and a sense of control, or at least its illusion.

It contrasts starkly with where Kurosawa’s film ends up taking us – the disorder of the battlefield after the conflict, and perhaps even the movie’s final image of the kagemusha being carried off by a current in the sea, that image composed in such a way as to severe the “canvas” against which the compositions of three were placed. (Alright, that last bit may be a stretch.)

In his later samurai movies (Kagemusha and Ran), Kurosawa takes a very painterly approach, and also a very deliberate one. As mentioned, the film struck me by its length. This is partly because it is long – three hours – but also because it begins slowly and (to repeat myself) deliberately as the beginning goes through a lengthy exposition.

But it’s not simply story exposition. It’s visual exposition too, those brilliant compositions of order. Interestingly, contrasted against the structural order of the way each scene is composed is the content, or story itself, which is somewhat confusing as we have several people playing, to some degree, one character – Shingen, the brother and the kagemusha. In the first half hour, it’s not difficult to get these confused.

For me, Kagemusha is a wonderful, if somewhat difficult movie. I think Ran is the better film. Kagemusha, however, is a film Kurosawa needed to make in order to get to Ran. Many of the visual ideas about composition and colour are first explored here. The movie is also an initial iteration of the theme of chaos and order, their roots and the illusions that attend the ideas of power, control and position.

Finally, Kagemusha is well worth seeing if only to sit back and let absolutely stunning images wash over you. This is one of the best looking movies I’ve seen.

See: 20 Movies — The List

Finally, The African Queen

I saw on the TCM home page something that caught my eye: (1951) being released on March 23, 2010 in a “Commemorative Box Set.” I care less about the box set business than I do about this note (found in the information on Amazon): “Fully Restored using state-of-the-art restoration process.”

I have been waiting forever to get a decent copy of this movie on DVD. You would think this would have been one of the movies that had been released as a DVD long ago — and released several times over. But that has not been the case. I believe rights problems may have made a mess of things (if I recall correctly). Maybe it was public domain? I no longer remember.

The point, however, is that it is finally coming, if a little pricey because it’s a box set. On the other hand, I find what is included intriguing. Amazon lists the special features as:

– Fully Restored using state-of-the-art restoration process

Includes all-new hour long “making of” feature with never-before-seen images and commentary

Collectible packaging highlighting Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn

Second disc with the original Lux radio broadcast of The African Queen starring Humphrey Bogart and Greer Garson (Audio CD)

Reproduction of Katharine Hepburn’s out-of-print published memoir: The Making of The African Queen or How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind

Collectible Senitype®: a four film frame card illustrating the Technicolor® process

8 images inspired by original theatrical lobby cards

The release date is March 23. And apparently there will be a Blu-Ray version too. I am waiting.

Havana so-so time

I ordered and received two of Sony’s Martini Movies, a series of films they’re releasing with a retro design, ones with sort of an -ish look and feel. The movies were Our Man in Havana and Affair in Trinidad. So last night I watched Havana.

Actually, I kinda, sorta, maybe watched it. I’ll have to watch it again, or at least the ending, because I fell asleep. Not a good sign.

It’s a satirical take on the Cold War with quite absurd goings on and people very serious about them, regardless of the absurdity. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Graham Greene, who did the screenplay. And it’s directed by Carol Reed. In fact, when you see all the names attached to the film, like director and writer and the stars: Alec Guinness, Maureen O’Hara, Burl Ives and Noel Coward, you can’t help but have fairly high expectations.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work. At least not for me. I had two problems going in: 1) I had read the novel, several times, over the years and, 2) I’m not a big fan of satire – for a skit, maybe, but for a 90 minute or so movie, nope.

I was never engaged. Intellectually, I could see the cleverness. But on a visceral level, I was detached. I’m also not sure a movie such as this, predicated on the context of the Cold War, can work very well outside of that context, such as 50 years or so later in a much changed world.

So … this ain’t no The Third Man. And quite apart from comparisons, on its own merits, this is a so-so film. Their are some good moments, certainly some good performances (though some are over-the-top, which sometimes works in a satire), but as a whole, it’s more a bland curiousity than anything else.

On the other hand, I may find Affair in Trindad quite good since my expectations are very low – the opposite of what I had for Our Man in Havana. Affair sounds as if it’s yet another effort to recapture the essence of Gilda, and that kind of effort fails more often than it succeeds. But we’ll see!

(Yes, my headline is lame. But I’m rushed!)

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You can’t see the same movie twice

This is not an injunction to only watch new movies. It’s a reference to the old Heraclitus thing about the same man never being able to enter the same river twice: the river has changed and so has the man.

So it is with movies. You can watch the same movie but you won’t see the same movie. For one thing, you know how it ends. (That is, assuming you stayed awake through the entire film.)

Am I stating the obvious? Yes. But I do so in order to explain why I will watch a given movie more than once – sometimes many times. While it’s not true of every movie, some movies offer up something new with each viewing.

I know people who think it’s madness to watch a movie twice. In some ways, I agree with them. Some movies aren’t worth seeing twice. There just isn’t enough to them. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad movies, not worth watching. Many of them are, if only for the spectacle or humour or pacing. But once seen, they are quickly forgettable. It doesn’t invalidate the experience. It just means they aren’t memorable.

Some movies almost become entirely new movies when seen a second time. To take a rather extreme example, there is no way you can watch The Sixth Sense a second time and have the same experience. The first viewing is entirely dependent on not knowing the ending. The second time, when you know the end, it becomes a different experience. In part, you may watch with some detachment in order to see how you were set up for that ending. For me, part of watching The Sixth Sense more than once is to enjoy the atmosphere the movie creates. It’s a bit like a Polanski movie in the way mood is such an important element.

Of course, not every movie has such an ending. Others are much more about reaching an expected conclusion, as in a romantic comedy. You know how it will end. What makes it fun to watch is seeing how they get there (not to mention the performances).

The Philadelphia Story is a good example of that. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen the movie but I return to it again and again because it always makes me laugh, always makes me feel good, and always fascinates me by the exceptional performances of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn (individually and together).

Often, that is my reason for watching a movie two or more times. Something inside me wants to repeat the experience of that first viewing, even though I know it will never be the same. But in many cases, it’s darned close. (I love watching Legally Blonde for that reason. It continues to be delightful, although it had a surprise element the first time I saw it because I had low expectations and was completely taken off guard by its cleverness and charm.)

Some movies take on a nostalgic quality depending on how old they are and how old you are/were. Recently, I was showing a friend some of the DVDs in my collection and she was almost giggling with delight because she saw movies like Say Anything and Jerry Maguire. They were movies just old enough to be connected with her younger self, pre-marriage, pre-children, and were remembered as both good movies and as movies that held fond memories for her. (Sometimes people get a kick out of the hair and clothes of a particular period.)

I watch movies for a number of reasons and, usually, those reasons differ day to day because my mood is different from one day to another. Frankly, some days I just want to see a simplistic comedy or action film or spectacle kind of movie. Other days, I’m much more in the mood for something with a good deal more meat to it.

But to get back to the business of watching a movie more than once … There are any number of reasons for doing so, and movies (like us) change over time. No, not literally, not objectively. But we never see anything objectively. Everything we see is filtered through who and when we are, our experiences and moods. It is a subjective experience even though we may, sometimes, agree with one another about a film.

One last example … Years ago, probably around when it was first released, I watched and enjoyed Blade Runner. Not long ago, Blade Runner: The Final Cut was released, so I picked it up and watched it. I couldn’t tell you what the differences were with the first one, which I initially saw long ago. In many ways, it was like seeing a movie for the first time, though not really because I had a general idea of what the movie was about and had certain images planted in my head. Hell, I knew what a replicant was.

The point, however, is this: I absolutely loved it when I watched The Final Cut. That wasn’t long ago – maybe a few months? Anyway … I watched it again a day or two ago. And … it did nothing for me. I actually had some sense of anachronism – though a futuristic film, it seemed to have, if not an 80s look and feel, an 80s interpretation of what the future would be like.

Why did it play a bit flat for me this time? There could be a number of reasons. It might be as simple as, it was too soon after seeing it the first time (this latter, Final Cut, version). It might have been that I just wasn’t in the right mood for that kind of movie. Though playing flatly for me, I could still see all its strengths. It remains a remarkable movie. But I couldn’t surrender to it this time.

Though the same movie, it wasn’t the same movie. Both I and the film had changed.


My review of Jerry Maguire, linked above, is pretty lame. I’ve watched the movie a few times since, including just the other day, so I hope to update or replace that review with something a bit more … let’s say, substantial.)

3 Godfathers: A western as Christmas fable

Having come across 3 Godfathers in a number of “top Christmas movies” lists, I decided to watch it. A second time. I had watched it about two years ago but I couldn’t recall it, and definitely didn’t recall the Christmas aspect. Now, having seen it again, I see the Christmas angle but I don’t personally consider it a Christmas movie. It plays like a western – an odd one, granted – and with no Christmas “feel,” at least not for me. Here’s the review I wrote:

Review – 3 Godfathers

3godfathers00The 1948 John Ford movie 3 Godfathers is, if nothing else, damn odd. And, to be honest, I’d have to say it’s ill-considered. It’s a western as Christmas-tale where three outlaws become something akin to the three wise men of the New Testament, but not really, and in the process reveal themselves as three bad guys who are really, really nice once you get to know them.

The film is dedicated to Harry Carey. John Wayne is the star. It co-stars Carey’s son, Harry Carey Jr. (in what I believe to be his first film). It also co-stars Pedro Armendáriz. The three, Wayne, Carey Jr. and Armendáriz, are three outlaws who arrive at the town of Welcome, Arizona, roughly around Christmas time, with the intention of robbing the bank.

When they first arrive they meet a friendly fellow with whom they begin to josh and converse. As the encounter ends, they discover he’s the town’s sheriff (Ward Bond), a man who has a pretty good idea of what kind of men they are and what they’re intentions might be.

So they rob the bank and in short order the sheriff has a posse out after them. Soon, the sheriff realizes that Wayne’s character, Robert Hightower, is a clever man and the chase becomes something of a game for him, the sheriff. It’s a challenge – he looks forward to catching Wayne and playing chess once he’s in prison.

3godfathers02The chase takes the outlaws out into the desert where they are in search of water and shelter. It’s not easy – one of them is wounded. Each time they come upon water, the sheriff and the posse are there ahead of them so they have to go searching for water elsewhere.

So far, so good. It’s an average western – not great, but not bad. But then they come upon a dying woman who is about to give birth. They help her with the birth. The child is born but his mother is dying. Before she does, however, she names the child after the three outlaws, appoints those same outlaws as the child’s godfathers, and makes them promise to care for the child.

The story movie now takes a weird turn where the western continues but a variety of religious elements – symbols and speeches and so on – begin to populate it. (These actually begin back with the woman giving birth to her baby – it is Christmas time.)

The three men care for the child passionately. Two of them perish in the end, for the sake of the child, and the third, Wayne, all but dies. He manages to survive, saving the child, but is caught by the sheriff. He’s taken back to the town of Welcome where he will face trial and a potential sentence of 20 years if found guilty.

The odd thing here (as if things haven’t been peculiar enough) is everyone is friendly, best buds, even though Wayne is in jail and going to court.

As might be expected with a Christmas film (that never really feels like a Christmas film), there is a happy ending to it all.

And it’s all just so damn odd.

On the plus side, however, I think this movie has one of the most interesting performances from John Wayne. He seems more emotive than we usually see him, and there is more animation in his face than usual. He has a nice speech in a scene where he tells the other outlaws about finding a pregnant woman in an abandoned wagon. It’s hard to say whether it’s one of his better performances, though, since the film is so strange. Is he good? Is it over the top? I really don’t know.

I can say this, though: Ward Bond is very good. And so is Harry Carey Jr., especially for a first film. (It’s not his fault the part is written the way it is.)

Also excellent in the film: the cinematography. The shots in the desert are really quite magnificent. The visual look of the movie is very John Ford, very good.

Overall, however, I’d have to say this is a wrong-headed film. It’s the wrong kind of story for John Ford. Apart from being a Christmas western (which just sounds weird), this essentially sentimental, feel-good story is Frank Capra country, not John Ford. Ford doesn’t seem to finesse this kind of story where we can accept the sentimentality – probably because of the western austerity and harshness that plays through most of the film.

Mind you, in its historical context, the Christmas aspect might have played better to an audience of the day than a contemporary one. But for me this is a curious movie but not a particularly good one.

2 stars out of 4.

Hong Kong: Last of the Road Series

The last of the Road Series, with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and the always present Dorothy Lamour, was 1962’s The Road to Hong Kong and, as might be expected since it was the last of seven, feels a bit tired, it’s a bit perfunctory and is, at best, a lackluster farewell to a series that was much loved in its day and remains so, at least for some (including me).

It’s essentially going to the well one too many times. That being said, it does have its moments.

The opening, a song and dance routine somewhat akin to a vaudeville number, has Crosby and Hope with strawboater hats, striped jackets, white pants and canes. Singing about teamwork, making jokes obout each other lyrically and visually, it’s a nod to what made the series work, the combination of the two entertainers, but has little if anything to do with the story.

The story, of course, is irrelevant. It’s simply a clothes rack on which to hang the obligatory routines – the chases, the jokes, the songs and so on. They do get to Hong Kong in the movie, at some point, but then they also get into space as well as several other places (including a lamasery). It doesn’t matter since the movie is a series of sketches, essentially, with a number of cameo appearances, such as David Niven in a brief and baffling moment, and Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

The best parts of the movie, however, are two other cameos – and they are very good. The movie seems briefly to spring to life, akin to the earlier films, when Dorothy Lamour makes her inevitable. The humour and music really do seem to rekindle the feeling of those first movies. You can see they are older, perhaps less energetic than their younger days, but all three – Hope, Crosby and Lamour – do seem to find the spirit.

The other cameo is the movie’s best scene, and it is fabulous. It’s a hilarious scene with Peter Sellers as an Indian doctor and Sellers completely steals the scene, probably because Hope and Crosby basically sit there, occasionally asking a question or something, being straight men for Seller’s routine. Sellers would play a man from India a few years later in The Party but this character is very different. Whereas in that movie his character is soft spoken, almost completely silent through much of the movie, in Road to Hong Kong he talks non-stop, rather like a car salesmen, trying to make all kinds of offers and deals to get as much money as he can from the Hope and Crosby’s characters.

I wish I knew something about the making of this movie because this scene has an improvisational feel. It plays almost as if the camera started rolling and they let Sellers loose to see what he would do. However it was done, this scene alone almost makes the movie worthwhile. It is very, very funny.

Still, relative to the rest of the film, it may not be enough to lead someone to watch it. I think this is a movie for fans of the Crosby, Hope, Lamour movies. For those people, it’s pleasant enough and certainly nice to see the three together again. Keep in mind that, as with the other Road movies, it’s very silly. The difference between the silliness of the earlier movies and this one is the sense of fatigue The Road to Hong Kong has about it. It lacks the crisp feel of the earlier movies. It’s really more of a tired, nostalgic nod to what went before.

2 stars out of 4.

Wall-E and heavy handed marketing

I think this is a movie I should love given the type of story it is (a hero story and romance with the hero being a robot). But after watching it, what I most feel is ambivalence. The decision to go with almost no dialogue, particularly in the first third of the film, seems daring. The eco-theme is appealing, at least for those who are of an environmental persuasion.

Really, I should love this. So why do I have mixed feelings?

I think it’s because before watching it I was predisposed against it due to all of the marketing junk associated with the DVD. Wow! I don’t recall another DVD that was so in your face with the branding and sales pitch. It was so off-putting, by the time the movie started I was cranky. My suspicion is, it actually is a very good film. Maybe that’s why it is so tarted up with hooey. Disney wanted to squeeze every ounce out of it for sales, sales, sales!

(I’m referring to the single disc edition – not the three disc edition or the Blu-Ray. I’m not sure how they were packaged.)

Rather than the usual plastic DVD case, the single disc comes in a cardboard affair that pulls out, partly, from a sleeve, with the DVD set in a kind cardboard tray with a foldout over it. I’m not sure that explains it but it doesn’t really matter. It feels quite flimsy and it’s not a simple matter to get the actual disc out without manhandling the package.

Of course, before getting to that you have to remove the usual plastic covering over the package, the covering with plastic labels. Once out, you open the cardboard case as little slips of paper fall out. I’m not sure what they were about – clubs, contests, etc. The usual thing is my guess.

You go to play the disc and you get the usual trailers, which aren’t really trailers at all but colourful hoo-hah about how great Disney is and many more “limited time only” movies you can buy. It’s colourful, yes, but really annoying.

I suppose I’m use to this kind of thing by now. Maybe it’s simply my annoyance at not getting the usual plastic case but a cardboard thing that’s doomed to fall apart. But overall, it seems to me there was something about the tone, or maybe it was the overall impression, that made me feel I was being hit over the head by a well-dressed but smarmy salesman.

There’s something a bit ironic about it all too, though perhaps not intended. In the movie, humanity has moved off-world. They live in a huge ship until such time the Earth is habitable again (having been buried under humanity’s trash). The captain of the ship is not really a captain but more of a cruise director aboard a huge, space luxury liner.

In this ship, people live as if on a cruise with robots taking care of their every need. In fact, they spend most of their time laying back, supine, in high-tech deck chairs. They do little physical except raise drinks to their mouths. Not surprisingly, all are very fat – so much so that even if they were to attempt movement, like walking, they would have a difficult time.

The irony I referred to is in how their world is constructed, this life they live aboard the ship. While it is like a luxury liner on a cruise of the Caribbean, it is also like a huge mall. Ads are everywhere. Big Brother like messages sound constantly and corporate logos are ubiquitous. It’s a world gone mad with branding, with providing a controlled, hedonistic experience that is associated with a brand.

In the world humanity has adopted, people blithely accept as normal a life defined by marketing. And the irony is that the DVD of Wall-E would be right at home in that world. It is that world.

I will try watching the movie again, though I’m not sure when. I have a nagging suspicion it may be more than good; it could be excellent. I do know it’s not a bad film – far from it. It may be one of the more intelligent animated movies of the last few years. But for now, Disney’s obsessive branding obscures it, at least for me.

It really makes me wish Pixar had never become part of the Disney behemoth.

2 stars out of 4.

All I don’t know about Nicholas Ray

I really know very little about director Nicholas Ray. But I know a little more now thanks to Noir of the Week and a review of On Dangerous Ground (1952) by . You, too, can learn a little more about Ray, of whom he says:

Ray’s decade was the 1950’s. You can look at and appreciate the output of Hitchcock or Billy Wilder or anyone from Sam Fuller to Douglas Sirk, but the ’50s were Nick Ray’s. No other director working in Hollywood was able to place America on the screen like Ray did.

He tells us a bit about the making of the movie as well as providing a review/overview of the movie itself. Not having seen the movie myself, I can’t agree or disagree with what he says, but it’s definitely an informative piece. All I knew of Nicholas Ray was that he directed In a Lonely Place, a movie I scribbled about a few years ago (a wonderful movie!).

The end result is, I’ve the urge now to track down some of the other movies such as Born to be Bad, They Live by Night, Johnny Guitar and, of course, On Dangerous Ground. (I didn’t realize Nicholas Ray had directed Rebel Without a Cause.)

(And why is Johnny Guitar still not available on a region 1 DVD?)

L.A. Confidential: moral dilemmas and style

Recently, it appears I’ve been on a John Wayne thing. To get away from that for the moment, here’s what I wrote recently about L.A. Confidential (1997). For what it’s worth …

L.A. Confidential (Special Edition), DVD coverI’ve always been lukewarm on noir films. I prefer comedies, romances and, of course, westerns. Still there are, as we all know, some exquisite noir films (Gilda, The Big Heat, The Maltese Falcon and so on.) And really, if a movie is good, who cares about the genre?

I start with that small preface because L.A. Confidential is a noir film and, if I recall correctly, it was hyped that way back when it was released, and hyped in such a way (read “excess”) that back then I watched it with reluctance. (Back then, by the way, would be 1997.) I thought, “Oh great. Another movie that’s all about evoking an older style and achieves cleverness by how closely it accomplishes this.”

Put another way, I was expecting a lot of style and very little substance. I expected it to be visually great but with a tedious, predictable story that mimicked the structure of older films.

In some ways, that’s what L. A. Confidential does. What I had forgotten about with good noir movies is that, much like westerns, the story focuses on a moral question. The approach here, however, is quite different than in a western.

Scene from L.A. ConfidentialFor me, a moral centre is what makes a movie compelling (assuming that the technical bits are all working at a relatively high level).

In L.A. Confidential, there are loads of moral choices. Although most of the characters have moral dilemmas, the story focuses on the characters played by Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce and Kevin Stacey. They are very different characters but they all make choices. Put simplistically, each chooses whether he’ll be a good guy or a bad guy.

It’s because the story, fairly complex, unfolds with a certain irrevocable determination that all the heavy lifting as far as costumes, sets, music and so on, elements to evoke a period, style, a kind of cinema, work. Often something period is a work of self-indulgent crap. In this case, the story demands the period look and feel and there is no sense that the filmmakers were treating themselves ahead of the audience.

Scene from L.A. ConfidentialThe end result is a very good movie, regardless of the genre, one that’s engaging and rewarding.

I’m sure I’ve said this before but, to repeat, I’m not a film expert, a film historian, a student of the cinema. I think I watch movies the way most people do. I’m dazzled sometimes by editing, effects, cinematography, but in the end, budgets be damned: it’s a well told story I respond to.

L.A. Confidential is a well told story. As a bonus, it’s visually brilliant.

3½ stars out of 4.