Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Starring: Kevin Spacey
Danny De Vito
For synopsis please read my review of the book.
There are very few instances when I consider a film better than the book it was based on, but I think this is one of those cases. In my book review I stated that I found the book difficult to get into, and while I ended up really enjoying it I think the film was more successful in telling the story. Where the book was filled with tiny threads and leads that may or may not have anything to do with the primary story, the film is streamlined, as a film should be. You don't have space for waffle in a film, even if it is interesting, so there were angles, characters and even years cut off the original story.
It may minimise the scope of the story and the time-line but the film completely understood the central story that Ellroy was trying to express and it respected the characters. Any character eliminated (and there weren't many) were done away with because their story threads didn't effect the end result in the same way. If I had to sum it up I'd say that it focused more on the crime and less on the personal lives that the cops were dealing with congruent with their jobs. This isn't to say it's some dry police procedural, you still get a lot of "life" in the story, but the stray threads are definitely tidied up.
The film really is quite spectacular. For a movie filmed in 1997, and in colour, they really captured the Noir atmosphere that was so beautifully captivating back in the 1950s, and adapted really well into the original text. The colours are slightly muted, giving it a nostalgic air, however, without seeming like a film student's attempt to be arty. It simply works, every piece is pieced together perfectly and in synchronicity, the colouring, the costumes, the sound, the story and of course, the acting. The film is unbelievably well cast. Each actor embodies the character as though they stepped right out of the book's pages. The film stayed very loyal to their literary representation. Their language, emotions, reactions, even their physical descriptions are done to perfection. I think the only one who doesn't appear on film as he does in the book in Danny De Vito (though don't quote me on that). However De Vito did such a fantastic job as the sleazy investigative journalist it didn't matter that he was short and fat where the original character was taller and skinnier (that I can recall). The performances were nuanced, and subtle, yet realistic, emotional reaction was favoured over excessive dialogue or hammy performances. I really don't think I can fault any of the actors in this film, I'm sure James Ellroy would have been quite pleased with the cinematic depiction of his interesting and complex characters.
This was a first time for me watching this film, but it certainly won't be my last. I highly recommend this film to everyone, and I recommend it over the book. Unless you think you're ready to sit through 450+ pages and potentially struggle through the beginning of it (if you're like me that is), I highly recommend at least checking the movie out first to see if it's your cup of tea.