I’ve been playing L.A. Noire, and what with all the fedoras, old-timey cars, and talk of “bracing” witnesses, it’s put me in quite the mood for one of my favorite movies, L.A. Confidential. I stayed up late watching it again the other night.
There’s a shorthand in a lot of movies, especially cop dramas, when it comes to character flaws. Want to quickly build an anti-hero? Give him a drinking or drug problem. Give him an ex-wife (or a dead wife) or an estranged child. Give him a couple days of beard growth and a crummy, messy apartment. This signifies to the audience that your hero is struggling with demons without having to do all that pesky work of, you know, writing a good, believable character.
L.A. Confidential takes the harder, longer route, and it pays off in spades: the three main characters are all horribly and realistically flawed and thus incredibly compelling. Exley is a overly ambitious weasel, a political rung-climber obsessed with outdoing his father, and happy to wear the disdain of other cops as a badge. Vincennes is a charming sleaze, willing to sell out for fame and headlines and not interested in solving crimes as much as starring in them.