Film

LA Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997) and Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974) discussion

I’d watched the academy award winning noir thriller LA Confidential after not seeing the film for several years but remembering what a excellent and complicated film it was. Definitely a film that demands repeat viewings, and I would challenge anyway to cope with the plot twists and narrative information being thrown at the audience at such a fast pace.

However, after scrutinising the film carefully, there were one or two moments which I felt where coincidence seemed to play a large part in the resolution of the narrative.

Somewhat unpredictably, after posting my comments on the film database site IMDb, http://www.imdb.com, I was quickly overrun with responses to my query. I have copied the responses from various film fans further below, and which even went so far as to escalate into a discussion about plot holes with the critically acclaimed film Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974). Film geeks and aficionados should always tread carefully regarding their criticisms.

I’ve provided youtube clips to scenes (unfortunately one of them is in Spanish) and a spoiler guide for anyone wanting clarification about the plot.

1. The scene when Pearce asks for Spacey’s help and inexplicably starts telling about ‘Rollo Tomatas’ and his personal mission for justice and revenge for this father’s murder which causes Spacey to suddenly develop a conscience, despite the fact he despises Pearce and resents him for jeopardising his venture with the TV show. Presumably, Spacey feels responsible for the murder of a young actor whose careers he destroyed and odd lack of coverage on the case. It’s good that Pearce was there for him just as Pearce inexplicably decides to re-open the Night Owl Massacre case despite having no evidence.

Why does Kevin Spacey, who resents Guy Pearce, suddenly grow a conscience and decides to help him after he’s already damaged his career and made enemies in the department. REPEAT SPACEY HATES PEARCE, why is he helping him?

WATCH HERE:

2. Spacey goes back to the station HQ and bumps into the forensics officer who randomly mentions that they’d found a dead ex-cop ‘Buzz’, known for police corruption, under the house of one of the victims from the shooting which Crowe had already uncovered. This then leads them to suspect that there might be a link between the Night Owl shootings and the escort crooks since Buzz may have worked with Crowe’s murdered partner.

Why do Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey suddenly receive a call from the coroner about the body Russell Crowe discovered?

WATCH HERE:

3. Crowe goes to interrogate an informer in a bar, which Pearce and Spacey later fail to do because of an incident with Lana Turner. After busting the guy’s balls, the suspect then tells Crowe a huge piece of the jigsaw, that the dead ex-cop and Crowe’s murdered partner might have been involved in a heroin deal with the escort service crooks. Who is this informer, and isn’t it another coincidence that this is just the information needed to link Buzz and his murdered partner to the Night Owl shootings?

Why does Russell Crowe visit a bar to find a man who tells him that his partner and the dead may have been involved in a drug deal together. Who is this man and why does he know about the drug deal and Crowe’s corrupt partner?

WATCH HERE (Spanish version):

May 6 2015. Reply from Mickyfinn

1. The scene when Pearce asks for Spacey’s help and inexplicably starts telling about ‘Rollo Tomatas’ and his personal mission for justice and revenge for this father’s murder which causes Spacey to suddenly develop a conscience, despite the fact he despises Pearce and resents him for jeopardising his venture with the TV show. Presumably, Spacey feels responsible for the murder of a young actor whose careers he destroyed and odd lack of coverage on the case. It’s good that Pearce was there for him just as Pearce inexplicably decides to re-open the Night Owl Massacre case despite having no evidence.

I wouldn’t say “inexplicably” – they are talking about why they joined the force. Rollo Tomasi is his reason. Vincennes says he can’t remember, which leads to his self-examination. And Exley doesn’t ‘inexplicably’ re-open the night Owl. Inez (the rape victim) reveals that the accused couldn’t possibly have done the Night Owl murders, that is what sends Exley down that road.

2. Spacey goes back to the station HQ and bumps into the forensics officer who randomly mentions that they’d found a dead ex-cop ‘Buzz’, known for police corruption, under the house of one of the victims from the shooting, which Crowe had already uncovered. This then leads them to suspect that there might be a link between the Night Owl shootings, the escort crooks since Buzz may have worked with Crowe’s murdered partner. A coincidence?

Well, some coincidence that Vincennes was there at that time, but so what that the guy decides to talk about it? And yes, White had already uncovered it. That’s kind of the point. It’s not until Exley and White get together as a team that they share information and solve the case.

3. Crowe goes to interrogate an informer in a bar, which Pearce and Spacey failed to do because of an incident with Lana Turner. After busting the guy’s balls, the suspect then tells Crowe a huge piece of the jigsaw, that the dead ex-cop and Crowe’s murdered partner might have been involved in a heroin deal with the escort service crooks. Who is this is informer, and isn’t it another coincidence that this just the information needed to link Buzz and his dead to the Night Owl shootings?

Stompanato just relays a rumor about the H. I don’t think he mentions Meek’s name, just that ‘some ex-cop’ (I think he said, but maybe not) got ahold of some H. Its another piece to the puzzle, which I repeat doesn’t mean much until Exley and White work together.

If you want to call it coincidence, that’s fair. I think its just police work that seems disjointed until the protagonists figure it out. Its a Detective story, right?

MAY 8 2015. Reply from JTGleason

I’m sorry to have to put it this way, but those are not coincidences. You have to put the movie on pause, or rewind it back to the parts that explain all those things after you went to the kitchen, or restroom while it was on.
For instance, Pearce partnered with Spacey to capture the three negroes, which got Spacey back onto the TV show, so he’d be the only one Pearce might now trust to help him. “Rollo Tomasi” is the made-up name Pearce gave to his father’s unknown killer, which is the reason he join the PD. “Rollo Tamatas” sounds like they were talking about women’s breasts.

JUNE 10 2015. Reply from fredunger

1. Mickyfinn correctly points out that Inez admitting she lied about the timeline starts Exley on his re-investigation of the murders. That leads him to seek help from Vincennes, probably because he successfully worked with before in the original Night Owl bust.
2. Vincennes didn’t run into the coroner by chance. Exley specifically sent him to meet with the coroner to find out the identity of the body. Remember “You get the girl, I get the coroner?”
3. White already knew that Stenzlend killed Meeks before meeting Stampanato. He only learned the motive here. Important, yes, but not game breaking. White on his own already linked Meeks to the Night Owl killing through Stenz and Susan Lefferts being there on a date.
The only real coincidence I’ll agree with is White running into Lynn, Susan, Patchett and Meeks outside the liquor store. That chance meeting pretty much set everything into motion after the killings (White recognizing Susan in the morgue, learning she was Stenz’s girlfriend, etc).
If that meeting doesn’t occur, there’s no movie after the murders lol.

June 26 2015. Reply from Mickyfinn

Vincennse didn’t really damage his career that much. He got dropped to another department for a while. And he didn’t make many enemies. As it was pointed out in the way h talks about the offer they gave him for ‘Bloody Christmas’, he’d be ratting on older guys that were soon to retire. He is disillusioned before he teams with Exley over the guilt for the murder of the young actor (he leaves his $50 at the bar). And I wouldn’t say he hates Exley – he thinks he’s an opportunist (there is dialouge to support that too), but with he newfounnd desire to ‘get it right’, he sees Exley as a valuable ally. Exley is honest, and uncorrupted, and that is what he needs.
And I don’t know what the problem is with Stompanato. He’s a gangster and as such he knows about stuff like that. I happened to know about Stompanto before this film, but I think it comes out with the scene with Exley earlier, so it shows that White would be able to get information from him later.

JUNE 26 2015. Reply from ME

Ok, I don’t want to be a massive geek about this and continue an argument about a point that no one really cares about for a great film that deserved an award. I’m simply highlighting some ‘minor coincidences’ or flaws in an otherwise excellent Hollywood film, I’m not even going to mention some of the obvious mistakes which Jack Nicholson appears to make Chinatown (another great film).
Spacey’s character is contradictory, in the jail riot scene he attacks one of the prisoners who WE, the audience, and he the corrupt cop know are probably not guilty of the crime they’re accused of. We see him cynically taking bribes from the start, in cahoots with the with sleazy reporter, and took a bribe of $50 to setup an actor who until his death he could care less about. I understand he feels responsible for the actor’s death, it’s just contrived that he pairs up with Guy Pearce who he partly blames who damaging his reputation with the TV show. I get how he should be grateful to Pearce for the Night Owl collar and publicity, but his entire position seems to switch after hearing the Rollo Tamatsi story and then Pearce asks him why he became a cop and he replies ‘I don’t remember’.
I realise alot of the details about the informer, Stampanto, and how Pearce’s tailing Crowe to the body identified by the coroner is probably better explained in the novel. But in the film, Crowe just turns up a bar randomly and the guy tells him about Meeks and the drugs, which ofcourse he would probably know which is why Crowe is there, but for the purposes of the plot I call that a coincidence. Like the coroner calling Pearce about the body, why is the coroner calling Pearce, wouldn’t Crowe or the coroner be suspicious of Pearce checking on the body he found. Why doesn’t the coroner tell Crowe that he identified the body and Pearce also wanted to know about it. Presumbly Pearce spoke to the coroner and has the right to this information since he was promoted to Lieutenant, so he’s within his rights to check Crowe’s case. But still….
Obviously, I’m being really really pedantic and ruining the logic of the story, but for some reason it just stuck in mind, I guess because the story is quite complex. We can argue about this for eternity, but I do like the film

JUNE 27 2015. Reply from chninlp

Jake Gittes’ mistakes aren’t flaws though. His mistakes are intended to be perceived as mistakes.

JUNE 27 2015. Reply from ME

sorry I totally disagree.
Having a meeting with head of the water company and telling him everything he knows about the conspiracy makes no sense whatsoever. When gettes leaves the chairmen immediately picks up the phone and tells John Huston about it, who then sends some thugs to follow him.
What was the point of telling the chairman about the conspiracy, considering how dangerous John Huston is?
Then later, he goes to meet with John Huston at Faye Dunaway’s house and tells him everything he knows and murders. Gettes unarmed and alone no back up having a meeting with a man he knows already tries to kill him and wants him dead.  Why does he go to meet John Huston when he knows his thugs are already after him?
How were those calculated deliberate mistakes meant to help him in anyway?

JUNE 27 2015. Reply from chninlp

First of all, Gittes had no idea how dangerous Noah Cross was when he met with Yelburton because he had no idea Noah Cross was even behind the conspiracy (and had no reason to); so your line of reasoning goes completely out the window and you lose that argument.
On the second point, Gittes confronts Cross at the end because of his self-assurance, which he perpetually exhibits during the course of the entire film and Chinatown does not make any compromises for “audience relief” like other inferior films do.

JUNE 27 2015. Reply from ME

Ok, I’m going to check this (coz I’m a geek). I’m pretty sure Gette’s met Faye Dunaway and suspected that Noah Cross had something to do with the murder of her husband which was why he confronted Yelburton about this and the water scandal.
Secondly, self-assurance or not, meeting up with Noah Cross and accusing him of murder after he’s already killed Dunaway’s husband, his son-in-law and employee for the water department seems like an incredible gamble.
I don’t understand what he has to gain from the meeting, the only reason Noah Cross doesn’t kill him or torture him is to locate his daughter, which Gettes has instructed Dunaway to meet him with later in Chinatown along with the detectives. I suppose Gettes assumes the detectives will arrest Noah Cross and rescue Dunaway and her daughter/sister and couldn’t have predicted that Dunaway would panic and try to run, but to meet with Cross beforehand, given the fact that he suspects him of murder and wants to kill them all makes no sense to me at all.

JUNE 27 2015. Reply from chninlp

He confronted Yelburton because of the chief engineer’s death following somebody posing as Hollis’s wife and hiring him to spy on Hollis on suspicion of him having an affair, in addition to the fact that many thousands of gallons of water were being dumped during a drought and he reasonably believed that some sort of malfeasance was at play but wanted to find out “who put [Yelburton] up to [his role]. For Gittes there is hardly anything suspicious about Noah Cross at that point.
Secondly, Hollis was not an employee of Cross; he was his former partner.
Finally, Gittes confronts Cross because of his gullible sanguinity. He even told one of his partners earlier in the film that he wants “the big boys”; obviously Cross hired Gittes to find his daughter, Gittes recognized it and used the situation for the aforementioned reasons.
In retrospect, of course Gittes has nothing to gain from meeting Cross near the end, but the film does not defend this misstep, or the other numerous mistakes he makes throughout the film. If you’re observing Gittes as a hero rather than merely the protagonist of the film, then you’re a bit mistaken.

JUNE 27 2015. Reply from ME

Ok, I may have been wrong about the scene with Yelburton, ( I need to now go back and watch the bloody thing!), but I’m pretty sure he’d got a little warning from Dunaway by that point about Noah Cross.
There’s still some ambiguity about the confrontation with Cross, especially after the whole ‘my nose, I like breathing through through it’ episode, that to me suggested a massive fatalistic error of judgement going to see Cross at the scene where Dunaway’s husband was killed in the pond, this is because he is unarmed and alone, and being pursued by the detectives and Cross’s thugs who want to kill.
Sanguine or not, why would you go meet the guy who wants to kill you?

JUNE 27 2015. Reply from chninlp

Cross doesn’t want to kill Gittes, but he deliberately implicates Gittes’ involvement in a possible cover-up of Hollis’ murder at Ida Sessions’ house.
Nevertheless, he still meets a dangerous man near the end. Why, you ask?
You know how LA Confidential has that line with Ed Exley that completes his moral journey?
“Would you be willing to shoot a hardened criminal in the back, in order to offset the chance that some… lawyer…”
It’s done far better here; listen to Gittes’ last words in the film.

JUNE 28 2015. Reply from ME

Ok, I’m not sure what Ed Exley’s moral journey has much to do with Gettes, Gettes puts himself in an extremely precarious position on the assumption that Cross won’t kill him in the house as he did with Hollis.
What Gettes doesn’t realise at that point is exactly how rich and powerful Cross actually, and wrongly assumes in the end that his ex-partners on the force will listen to him at the final showdown. I don’t see how Cross tries to Gettes implicate in Hollis murder except with the phone number scratched in the wall where the fake Mulray woman was found dead
Gettes and his ex-partner clearly don’t like each other, but I don’t perceive Cross trying to setup Gettes with the fake Mulray woman’s death or Hollis’s murder rings true. Cross doesn’t know much about Gettes or his partner, and after Dunaway’s death, rather than arrest Gettes for the murders, which Cross probably wanted, they just let him go.
Regardless of this, or Gettes heroic moral journey and his quest for the truth, I still don’t see how going to meet Cross alone and unarmed makes any sense. Cross did have him followed and threatened to kill him several times, afterall.

JUNE 28 2015. Reply from chninlp

I’m not saying Exley’s moral journey is similar to Gittes. I’m just saying that people praise Exley’s (and White/Vincennes) character development and it can’t beat Gittes.’
After Gittes meets with Cross for lunch, with Gittes briefly telling Cross about the lead investigator, Escobar (his old partner) , Cross then tips off Escobar to Ida Sessions’ house with photos Gittes took of Hollis and the girl planted at her house.
More importantly, again, Gittes is not a hero at all, he is simply the main protagonist of the film.
Like I said, if you want an answer to why he confronts Cross at the end, along with the numerous other mistakes he makes in the film, listen to HIS LAST WORDS in the film.

JUNE 28 2015. Reply from ME

Can’t you just tell me what his last words were, whatever they were it must’ve been ambiguous. All I remember is Gettes saying to Cross ‘what can you buy that you don’t already own?’ and Cross replying ‘the future, Mr Gettes!’.
Off topic here, but I’d been reading Syd Field’s analysis of Chinatown in his book Screenplay, who rates the film’s script highly and uses it to demonstrate what makes a great film.
In the original script, Robert Towne has Gettes say to Curly in the opening scene after Curly expresses his desire to kill his wife, ‘You gotta be rich to get away with murder in this town, you gotta have money, you gotta have class. What makes you think you got that kindof power?!’. This dialogue doesn’t appear in the film the way it does in the script and instead is moved to some other scene, but I can’t remember who says it.
The only other dialogue I remember from the end scene is Gettes screaming at Escobar in front of Cross, ‘You gotta listen to me, he killed Mulray because of the water thing!’, but Escobar silences him.
The film’s iconic and enigmatic final words are then muttered, ‘It’s Chinatown, Jake. Forget it.’
I think you might have given me an excuse to go back and watch dvd with the Robert Towne and David Fincher commentary, which I’ve been meaning to do for some time. And I also feel I’ve crossed the line from rational cineophile to terminal film geek.

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