OBJECTIVE: Watch a popular or critically acclaimed film we’ve never seen to the halfway point. Pause it. Work together to predict the ending.
L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997)
THE LAST THING WE SAW: We paused at 01:06:45 (which turned out to be a bit early—sorry, we couldn’t math that day): up to this point, we saw the shooting in the Nite Owl and the police force track and eventually kill three suspects. Exley receives a badge of honor and the case is closed. We stopped in the middle of the scene during which Bud comes over to visit Veronica Lake-look-alike Lynn Bracken.
And now… discuss!
Phil: Okay, so let me start by saying this: I don’t think that the three suspects they’ve shot were the culprits of the Nite Owl shooting. They clearly were not admitting to what the police force was hoping they would.
Ben: Yeah. The thing that they did was that they raped the girl in that guy’s apartment. I don’t think they even know what the Nite Owl is, let alone were there.
Phil: So we’re on the same page here, that this was a stitch-up.
Ben: Yes. They were peeing themselves and cursing themselves because they thought they had been caught for the rape and abuse of that girl.
Phil: Right. So at this point there is literally half a movie left. So what is going to happen? Here is my prediction.
Ben: Go for it.
Phil: At first I was pretty confused as to what we’ve seen, because the case seems all wrapped up. “They’ve caught the guys,” ostensibly. But all of this stuff that we’ve seen has made us forget about the fact that one of the first things we were watching was a series of gangland shootings. I think the Nite Owl was one of these gangland shootings.
Ben: Hmmm. But were there mobsters among the victims?
Phil: I think there was.
Ben: And we just haven’t learned that yet.
Phil: Exactly. I figure one of them was the target of the mob. And I think it’s that cop that was there, Stensland; I think he was crooked enough to have been wrapped up with a gang.
“Stensland lied to me.”
Ben: Oh! Jeez, yeah, he might be just crooked enough to have had a hand in things. He managed to stay a cop even though he was physically unfit to be a cop—
Phil: Yeah! In fact, you’re bringing me to my next point! How is he staying in, how is all this happening? There are a bunch of gangs out there fighting for power, and behind it all, there are a few dirty cops who are are a part of it and helping it happen—and Stensland was one of them.
Ben: Okay, I’m with you.
Phil: And this brings me to my next prediction: James Cromwell’s character is super behind all this.
Ben: Smith is dirty. Yeah, absolutely.
Phil: The first lines he had in the film were essentially, “Exley, are you willing to do some pretty shady stuff?” For him the ends justify the means. So what if his means are, “I’ll be in good with a gang in order to keep other hoodlums off the street?”
Ben: He is probably very willing to make that deal. I think you’re right. I also think that Stensland might have been coasting on White’s record and his “exuding copness.” The note I wrote next to Russell Crowe’s character is “such a cop!” When they take his gun and badge away, he turns white as a sheet, he says nothing, just gives them up. And when Smith gives them back, did you see how eagerly he snatched them back?
Phil: Yeah, he was practically terrified.
Ben: This is White’s entire identity: being a cop and protecting women, and being a brute force at both. So it’s possible that Stensland was able to get away with things under White’s exemplary record, or perhaps his willingness to do whatever Smith told him to—however, it is more likely that Smith and Stensland were tied up together. And remember how quickly Smith sent Stensland down the river?
Phil: Yeah, that’s a really good point! Speaking of Bud White, as of right now I am pretty sure that White is simply Smith’s stooge.
Phil: White knows nothing of these shady dealings. He is just this White Knight going around on this crusade of his to protect women. And, once again, for him the ends justify the means.
Ben: Oh, absolutely. I mean, he killed a guy in cold blood. Added to this, I think that Smith is working with the porn producer, Pierce Patchett.
(On the other line: Sid Hudgens and Dudley Smith.)
Phil: Yeah, I was wondering how Patchett was going to be wrapped up in this. Could be, I don’t know…
Ben: Because his mechanic doesn’t need to carrying a gun while wearing an A-shirt.
Phil: See, I actually think that the way Patchett will be connected is that he is part of a rival gang.
Ben: Okay, tell me more.
Phil: Bud White already kind of hates him, and I think, plot-wise, that is going to continue.
Ben: But what if Patchett and Smith are already working together, and when White walks in on them, he goes, “I work for you, but I hate you, and you guys are buddies”? He won’t be able to reconcile this.
Ben: Here’s his other reconciliation problem. He can’t keep away from Lynn (this is the last thing we see). He has the identity of a brutish cop and a fierce woman protector burned into him so deeply that their relationship cannot possibly end well. So you’ve got the implosions of his relationships with Smith, with Lynn, and with her boss, Patchett, all at the same time, so he is going to find himself on top of a red X pretty damn soon.
Phil: All makes sense.
Ben: Now, who’s taking on Smith? It’s got to be Exley.
Phil: I agree. I think Exley is going to figure all of this out. And it will be a showdown between them.
Ben: Smith has been trying to reign Exley in and put him on not the right path, but a path that will be good for Exley, Smith, and the force.
Phil: More for Smith, I’d say. And the force is Smith’s weapon.
Phil: I mean, that’s what he’s wielding. So I agree. Smith has been kind of coercing Exley.
Ben: And he’s willing to give Exley what he wants, as long as Smith gets what he wants.
Phil: Actually, how did Smith know about the Nite Owl shooting? He’s got to be crooked.
Ben: Right! Exley was the one who got the call!
Phil: And Exley was the only one who knew about it. He’s definitely crooked!
Ben: Yeah! Damn.
Phil: He’s nicked. So I think it’ll be Exley figuring this out, and Vincennes will be on Exley’s side, but for the glory and the fame of it, not for the morality.
Phil: That said, Vincennes will still be a trusted ally.
Ben: And he can’t possibly have a tainted record by being with a gang. I don’t think he’d go dirty to get fame.
Phil: Yeah, and on top of that, he was the only one aside from Exley willing to cave and give evidence against the other policemen about the night of the beating. I think this film has already shown that both Exley and Vincennes are on the same path for different reasons.
Ben: Yeah. And Jack Vincennes will to get photos of himself looking like the hero without fucking over Exley too bad.
Phil: Vincennes could even look a little better than Exley—although it is hard to keep that Boy Scout down.
Ben: Vincennes is desperate to get out of Vice, though.
Phil: Yeah, he is, and he wants to get back on that TV show.
Ben: And he has to have a big bust to do it.
Phil: So they’ll figure out that Smith is guilty. And it will be as you say with Bud.
Ben: He’ll have a crisis of conscience, at least.
Phil: Yeah, there will be some cognitive dissonance there for him, and it’s going to blow up, and all four of them are going to be wrapped up in a conflict.
Ben: I can’t see White getting out of this alive.
Ben: There are too many problems in his life.
Phil: I agree with that. Smith, too.
Ben: Yeah, there is no way Smith lives.
Phil: Exley will get wounded.
And Vincennes will be completely unscathed. He’ll get a few drops of blood on his pristine suit.
Ben: I think so, too. And Jack will try to sell the photo of himself in front of all this to Sid from “HUSH-HUSH,” and that’s how he’ll get the Badge of Honor job back.
Phil: Yep. You’re right!
Ben: So what do you think is going to happen in this scene between Bud and Lynne?
Phil: Well, that’s very HUSH-HUSH.
AND NOW, WE FINISH THE MOVIE: