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How L.A. Confidential uses conventions of the crime film genre to enhance and manipulate audience appeal, with reference to the main character Bud White.

(I am not sure about the quality of this essay.... It just provides some intresting thinking points on what is a complex and great movie)

Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential, released in 1997, is a stunning modern addition to the crime film genre. The film not only recreates the suspenseful, dark atmosphere associated with many older movies of the film noir genre, but also enhances the genre itself by expanding on themes common to audiences today – racism, romance, fame and deceit. The storyline, whilst highly original, nevertheless adheres to the typical conventions of the crime genre. The single, hardboiled main character of Bud White provides a typical policeman, and is the major medium for audience engagement in the film. The Los Angeles setting of the film is also important and both these themes work together to subconsciously attract people who are used to this genre’s common framework. The departure from this the however are also used as a basis to manipulate the audience as the film diversifies and extrapolates on these well used themes.

The intriguing yet brutal character of Bud White embodies the typical crime fiction detective. Director Curtis Hanson successfully casts Russell Crowe in the ‘tough guy’ image. Crowe portrays Bud as an honourable yet mysterious character from the outset of the film, the typical crime fiction detective. His integrity is quickly established when he breaks up a domestic dispute on Christmas Eve, choosing to ignore Stenzlow’s comment to “pick up the booze” and “return to the station” and instead gallantly protect a woman being beaten by her husband. This short yet clever scene appeals to the audience after they have heard about the ‘organised crime’ in Los Angeles. Here is a man of integrity, willing to use ‘justified’ violence and willing to put himself out to help others. The scene also establishes his desire to help women, which foreshadows his relationship with Lynn Bracken. Bud describes himself to the husband as “the ghost of Christmas past” a sardonic quip with a lot of truth in it: He certainly is bringing “Christmas cheer” to the woman being bashed, however is a “ghost” for the man whom he is about to arrest. The audience is presented with a character with whom they can identify, and this gives them someone to follow.

In keeping with this genre, Bud’s faces much adversity and hardship during the course of the film. His moment of personal realisation in the middle of the film is of key importance. The femme fatale of Lynn Bracken is the catalyst to this realisation. When she meets Bud, she sees the blood on his shirt and asks “Did they deserve it today, officer?”, to which Bud replies he is “not sure”. This portrayal of the thin line between “deserved” violence and totally unjustifiable force is often seen in crime fiction, and gives the audience something to ponder and think about in relation to the main protagonist. Bud finally realises what he has become when he is beating information out of a suspect for Dudley, running to wash his face. This poignant moment of silence is finished when Bud turns away from the mirror, unable to look at his face. Dudley believes Bud is “Losing his grip”, and Bud has realised that he is only ‘hired muscle’ to most people – except for one. In a captivating and multilayered expansion on the genre, Lynn exposes Bud’s vulnerable side. Lynn is unmade-up, her hair loose, and her face tired and weary, and she appears just as lonely as Bud is at this stage in his crisis- She goes to him as Lynn Bracken, not as Veronica Lake. It is in this vulnerable way that Bud reveals his dark past – another film noir convention. His haunting admission that he watched his father “batter” his mother to death adds another dimension to this enigmatic character and encourages the viewer to sympathise with the him.

The setting for the film is also important in relation to both the genre, and the protagonist Bud. The predominant setting for crime fiction of this type is in central Los Angeles, and this film is no exception. The allure of Hollywood, fame and money appeals to the audience of the film, providing them with a form of escape from the boredom of their own and transporting them to “the city of the future”. However, this is a two-edged sword, and we soon learn that “all is not well in the city of Los Angeles”, and the viewer feels satisfied that these characters also face hardship. Bud is just as much a product of his environment as well as his haunting past: He is successful because he can cope in this urban decay, often “willing to beat a confession out of a suspect. There is irony in the way that “the best police department in the world” must rely on such crude and primitive methods, and we soon realise that the entire city is built on corruption – from the “generous support” given by Pierce Patchett to the Santa Monica freeway, down the the youth with “dreams of stardom” who fall into prostitution. The audience is made to realise that the war on crime is not yet won, and as a result the case is not yet solved - and it must clearly Bud White who will solve it, within this urban squalor.

All of these conventions combined define the very successful crime film genre, and the film clearly works as both a stunning example of film noir as well as a typical crime thriller. However, the film did not achieve the success at the box office that some had expected, and I believe this to be due to the ending of the film. The audience is expecting a total expose of the police force, starting with Dudley and moving onto the clear corruption in the higher ranks, however this does not happen. Bud, in fact, finally appears as a more subdued man, sitting in the back of a car driven by Lynn Bracken, away from the police force. The corruption is covered up and Exley is silenced by a promotion, very atypical of the normal endings for such films. Hence the effect achieved here by the director is meant to be taken as an intellectual, rather than a emotional one, where reason is used in assessing the situation, and we discover what the film is really about: Image. Los Angeles is “selling an image”: And this image must be upheld at all costs.

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