Dime store detective stories have inspired more great movies than Dostoevsky ever will, but local-boy-made-bad James Ellroy always seemed too tough a proposition for Hollywood to take on. Hanson's adaptation of Ellroy's most complex novel is a towering achievement, probably the finest mystery thriller since Chinatown. Set in the '50s, this punchy cocktail of gangland violence, police brutality, racism and sex-scandal cover-ups feels torn from today's headlines. It operates on the principles of an exposé, highlighting the parallax between image and reality. As Danny DeVito's muck-raising, 'Hush Hush' magazine hack guides us on a gleeful trawl through the seedier, sleazier aspects of this, the last of the frontier towns, we meet three very different lawmen: Spacey's cynical showboat Jack Vincennes; Ed Exley (Pearce), a straight-arrow cop headed for the top; and Crowe's Bud White, the strong arm of the law, brawn to Exley's brains. Contrasting not only their approaches to procedure, justice and respect, but also their vividly etched, distinctly volatile psycho-pathologies, Hanson inexorably draws these three cases to one conclusion: when the trio do take a stand, it's inspired less by idealism than self-disgust. As the emotional nexus, a Veronica Lake lookalike trapped in a web of male desires, Basinger is arguably the pick of a perfect cast. Subtle, shocking, compelling and immensely assured.