City of angles

How Curtis Hanson turned James Ellroy's epic crime novel L.A. Confidential into one of the year's best films

Ellroy thinks the movie is a time-jump to an age when "people looked different and were coiffed different, and buildings weren't so big, when people weren't so self-conscious, and just accepted a lot more things than we do now. It's a trip back to that world, but one that tells you those weren't better times. And, frankly, who wouldn't want to visit those times?"

Curtis Hanson is philosophical about his newfound heat: "From the advance reaction, I feel that we're getting the benefit of a reverse backlash. People are saying that they miss, in most movies, something we worked hard to have in this movie--an old-fashioned respect for narrative. Writers and directors used to be encouraged to develop their narrative skills; it's no accident that directors like John Huston and Howard Hawks got better as they went along.

"If they came up today, there would be nobody to encourage them; now, too many people make their best movies first and shoot their wads. The fact that nobody on a studio level values narrative makes it harder to bounce around from genre to genre. What one envies about the careers of Huston and Hawks is they could do all sorts of movies. I know as a fan of somebody that if they can do a really good job with a Western, there's no reason they can't do a really good job with a Raymond Chandler story or an adult relationship picture. But that's because I value and recognize storytelling. If you don't, the tendency is to go, well, they did a good comedy...they can only do a good comedy."

Since they first teamed up, Hanson's co-writer, Brian Helgeland, has also become hot. He wrote the original script of the summer's underrated suspense-romance, Conspiracy Theory, and rewrote Kevin Costner's dry-land post-apocalypse, The Postman. He's now preparing his directorial debut--Parker, a variation on Point Blank set to star Mel Gibson.

He already misses his anonymity: "I mean, the new Stanley Kubrick movie goes out with huge expectations; everyone's been following it. But when Curtis and I began work on L.A. Confidential, we weren't top writers or directors in this town. With this film, we didn't say we were going to make a great movie, but we thought we had the raw material to make a great movie. And we got to do it without being under the spotlight." For the moment, he laughs at the image the two must now project to the industry: "Hanson and Helgeland--who knew?"

L.A. Confidential.
Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger. Written by Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland. Directed by Hanson. Opens September 19.

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