Curtis Hanson’s big, brassy adaptation of James Ellroy’s epic crime novel is a classic study in how to make a movie from a supposedly unfilmable book. Hanson and cowriter Brian Helgeland shaved away subplots galore (including a doozy about the construction of a Disneyland analogue) and restructured major character-arcs freely (the famous “Rollo Tomasi” gambit isn’t in the book). Yet, remarkably, the events of the film and the novel lead to the same ending, and every frame is thoroughly steeped in the seamy glamour of Ellroy’s vision.
Confidential is, of course, notable as one of many pre-Gladiator movies that were supposed to have made Russell Crowe a star, and he’s certainly terrific—you don’t have to be an Ellroy reader to be taken aback by how completely he disappears into the character of Bud White. Indeed, for devotees of the writer, one of Confidential’s great pleasures is seeing favorite characters (several of whom appeared in multiple books) coming vividly to life. Kevin Spacey is so good that the gutting of LAPD Sgt. Jack Vincennes’ backstory is one of the few disappointments. Best of all is the portrayal of recurring Ellroy villain Sgt. Dudley Smith, who James Cromwell embodies as perfectly as Christopher Reeve did Superman. The extras include a mountain of background material and a commentary by a staggeringly large group of participants. The disc also features the first official release of the failed 2000 pilot for a TV spin-off that would have starred Kiefer Sutherland as Vincennes.