Thursday, July 1, 2010

92. L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy

Colin and I were looking for movie adaptation ideas, and he was reading titles off of some website. When he got to L.A. Confidential, he was all for it -- he said that I should really read this one and then we could watch the movie together. It turns out Colin loved the movie adaptation when it came out and thought it should have beaten Titanic for Best Picture. Okay, then: decision made. L.A. Confidential it is.

James Ellroy's L.A. CONFIDENTIAL is epic noir, a crime novel of astonishing detail and scope. It stands as a steel-edged time capsule -- Los Angeles in the 1950s, a remarkable era defined in dark shadings.

Police corruption.
Gangland intrigue.

A horrific mass murder that invades the lives of victims and victimizers on both sides of the law -- three cops treading quicksand in the middle.

Ed Exley wants glory. Haunted by his father's success as a policeman, he will pay any price, break any law to eclipse him. Bud White watched his own father murder his mother -- he is now bent on random vengeance, a time bomb with a badge. Trashcan Jack Vincennes shakes down movie stars for a scandal magazine. An old secret possesses him -- he'll do anything to keep it buried. Three cops in a spiral, a nightmare that tests loyalty and courage, a nightmare that offers no mercy, allows for no survivors.

Ruthless ambition.

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL is incendiary, a novel as broad and explosive as its themes. Here is James Ellroy's masterpiece, his stunning gifts stretched to the limit, darkness to haunt you in shades of red, gray and black. 

Plot summary taken from the book jacket. Laying it on a bit thick, aren't they?

Ellroy's writing style was extremely off-putting at first and I had a really hard time getting into this book -- a bad omen, considering its 500-page length. I can't describe it really, but the style just didn't make sense to me and it was difficult to decipher what the hell was going on. It's a good thing that the plot is so damn intriguing or I might have considered giving up. After about 150 pages, I felt more comfortable with the writing and desperately wanted to make it to the end. It went pretty fast after that first 150, and I ended up finishing the book in two days, surprising myself. I liked the twists and payoff of the exposition, but I didn't think this was the best mystery/suspense/thriller that I've ever read -- maybe at heart, I'm just not a noir person?

One thing that I found really interesting, and I'm not sure if I liked or disliked, was Ellroy's incorporating actual people and events into his fiction. The gangster Mickey Cohen was mentioned in the first chapter, and the name sounded familiar but I didn't think much of it -- until Johnny Stompanato, one of his associates, came up. Now that name I know for sure. I'm the proud owner of Lana Turner's autobiography and her daughter Cheryl Crane's autobiography -- and Johnny Stompanato takes up at least a chapter or two in each. Stompanato dated and abused Turner and was killed in her home. The official story is that Cheryl stabbed him to prevent him from beating her mother, but there were a lot of rumors and other theories about what happened at the time. It was a huge scandal. So once I saw that name, I did some online research and found that Ellroy used a lot of historical information in the book, most notably the Bloody Christmas affair, which puts several plot points in the book into motion. I'm still deciding it that was cool or confusing. Probably both. 

And now for some trivia before I get into the movie adaptation that Colin loved so much. 

At one point, the name Barney Stinson came up -- we never meet this character but his name is provided as a criminal's drug dealer. Who cares, you ask? Well, Coin and I are big fans of the show How I Met Your Mother, and Barney Stinson is the name of Neil Patrick Harris's character. Coincidence? Hm...

This may be a spoiler, so please avert your eyes if you wish to remain spoiler-free. Pierce Patchett, one of the big baddies in the book, was from Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Just like me! This fact doesn't have a lot of bearing on anything, but it was interesting to me. In another world, maybe I would have been the Grosse Pointe native that ended up running a Hollywood look-a-like brothel in Los Angeles. Who knows?

Now, those of you paying attention will know that I read L.A. Confidential immediately after No Angel. This is apropos of nothing, except that in both books the city San Bernardino, CA, is referred to as "Berdoo" and "San Berdoo." What's up with that? I thought it was just a Hells Angels things when I was reading No Angel, but then it comes up in L.A. Confidential? What does it mean? I did some preliminary research online, and it seems that it doesn't mean much of anything -- "Berdoo" has been a nickname of San Bernardino for over 100 years. Shrug. Mystery solved, I guess.

I had never seen the movie adaptation of L.A. Confidential. All I really knew about it was that Kim Basinger won Best Supporting Actress for her role and she wore a really lovely green gown to the ceremony and was still married to Alec Baldwin at that point. Colin and I watched it just a few days after I finished the book, so everything was still fresh in my mind. And every time the movie deviated from the book, I couldn't help but point it out. Yes, I was that guy. Even though I knew they would have to trim down a lot to adapt the book, I was still surprised by how much that was different. I'm not sure why Kevin Spacey agreed to play Vincennes -- his entire background was cut out, as well as his romance, and (spoiler alert!) he dies sooner in the movie than in the book. What's up with that? Also, it's more noticeable to me when a movie takes itself very seriously than when a book does. I'm sure the book did take itself very seriously, but I couldn't help but notice it during the movie. At one point, White is beating up Exley and Exley is trying to convince him that someone is setting him up. He actually yells, "Think, goddamn you! Think!" I laughed. This was one of those times when I couldn't watch the movie objectively, so if you want to discuss it I suggest you talk to Colin. I didn't appreciate it as much as he did. 

No comments: