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L.A. Confidential follows three distinctly different police officers as they each try to unmask the circumstances surrounding the mysterious mass-murder at the Nite Owl, a local coffee shop.
L.A. Confidential was so successful a pilot was produced in 1999 starring Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Vincennes. The show was sent to both HBO and Fox, but neither network picked it up. The pilot is available to watch on the Blu-ray and the two-disc DVD releases of the film.
Sid Hudgens, editor of gossip rag Hush-Hush magazine welcomes you to the city of angels, cirka 1950. The beaches stretch on endlessly, there are jobs aplenty, and you cannot walk five steps without running into a movie star. What could possibly be wrong in this paradise on earth?
His name is Mickey Cohen. The head of the mob in L.A., and a thorn in the side of the police department, whose reputation is tarnished by the mere existence of organize crime in the city with the greatest police force in the world. Dope, rackets and prostitution, Mickey C has a hand in all of it. Something has to be done. But even getting Cohen off the streets and into incarceration cannot remove the hidden layer of corruption and greed lying underneath the glossy surface of Hollywood. Power doesn't simply disappear once the man wielding it is gone, and Cohen's arrest merely creates a power struggle that might threaten to tear the city apart. Who will lay his hands on Cohen's missing heroin, and become the new king of crime in Los Angeles?
Wendell "Bud" White
Meet officer Bud White. Sidetracked during a booze run for the precinct Christmas party, White and partner Dick Stensland find themselves sitting in their car in a tranquil suburban neighborhood. In the house next to them, a recently released wife beater is having a violent disagreement with his spouse. White calmly walks out of the car, and onto the man's lawn. Spotting the Christmas ornaments on the roof, he grabs a hold of the power cable, and tears it down, prompting the man to rush outside to see what the commotion is. The man angrily squares up to him, but White calmly introduces himself as the "ghost of Christmas past", causing the man to take a swing at him. White easily dodges the blow, and proceeds to savagely beat him, before handcuffing him to the porch, and calling for a prowler to come pick him up. Before he leaves, he threatens that if he ever touches his wife again, he'll have him framed as a kiddie raper. "You know what they do to kiddie rapers in Quentin?" After wishing the man's wife a merry Christmas, he drives off to continue his errand.
Meet sergeant Jack Vincennes.
Big Jack Vincennes
Hollywood Jack is the technical adviser on the hit police television show Badge of Honor, and forms a symbiotic relationship with filth-merchant Sid Hudgens. The star of the LAPD's narcotics department, Jack supplies Hudgens with the kind of access that keeps shifting his magazine tons of copies each week, while Hudgens makes regular contributions to the Jack Vincennes retirement fund. The two meet up at a Hollywood party, and Hudgens informs Jack that a friend of his just sold some marijuana to local stage actor Matt Reynolds, and proposes they do another high-profile bust, something Jack naturally accepts. The pair subtly leaves the party.
Edmund Jennings Exley
Meet sergeant Edmund Exley. Acting watch commander at Hollywood station, where the Christmas party is being held, straight arrow Exley is the picture of the modern LA police department. The son of legendary police man Preston Exley, the young sergeant has some large boots to fill. We join Exley being interviewed by the press, covering the party for a local news paper. Earlier in the evening, two officers were attacked and injured, but Exley assures the journalists that the men have only sustained lighter injuries, and that such hazards are part of the job. Exley is joined by his captain, Dudley Smith, a tall, lanky man whose skills as a politician shine through as soon as he opens his mouth. After sharing a couple of relaxed words with the journalists, he pulls Exley aside, and congratulates him with coming in as the head of his class on the lieutenant's exam, and asks him what his plans are, going forward. When Exley tells him he plans to be a detective, Smith freezes for a moment, then looks around to make sure no-one hears him. He asks Exley if he would hypothetically be willing to plant evidence, beat a confession out of, or even shoot a suspect he knew to be guilty in the back in order to offset the chance that he would walk away on a technicality. When Exley tells him that he wouldn't, Smith tells him, "for the love of God, don't become a detective."
Lynn Margaret Bracken
In the mean time, White has arrived at the liquor store. There, he runs into a rather fetching blonde the clerk calls Lynn. White greets her, and get's an "hello officer" in return. When he asks if it's that obvious, she tells him that it is practically stamped in his forehead. White and his partner leave the store, and immediately spots a car sitting by the curb of the road. Inside are two men, and a woman with bandages across her nose. As he approaches the car, the driver gets out, and tells him to get lost. As the two men meet face to face, White quickly disarms and subdues the driver, who he learns is a former cop called Leland Meeks. When he asks the woman in the car if she is okay, Lynn walks up behind him and tells him that it's not what he thinks. After being reassured by the woman herself that all is fine, he takes his leave.
Elsewhere Jack and Sid Hudgens prepare for their pot bust. With a photographer in tow, and a movie premiere in the background providing the perfect frame, Jack walks in the front door, and arrests Reynolds and his girlfriend in a hail of flash photography. Searching Reynold's wallet, Jack finds a single business card with the words "Fleur-de-lis, whatever you desire", and an address in Crestview. He pockets it and heads back to Hollywood station. Just as Jack arrives with his two prisoners, White and Stensland show up with the booze. Jack approaches Exley, being the watch commander, and tries to slip him a ten dollar bill, calling it a gratuity from Hush-Hush magazine, but Exley blatantly refuses to accept. Moments later, the Mexicans accused of assaulting the two police officers earlier in the evening are brought in, and put in custody in the basement.
As the evening goes on, and alcohol levels rise, the gossip in the station has turned the bruises and muscle pulls the assaulted police officers sustained into one of them losing and eye, and the other receiving his last rites. The mood turns sour, and finally, lead by Dick Stensland, a mob is formed to deal justice to the incarcerated Mexicans. Exley tries in vain to stop them and is restrained while the rest of the cops pour into the holding cell. Upstairs, White, busy typing his report, is approached by Jack who tells him to put a leash on his partner before he kills somebody. Stensland assaults one of the Mexicans, but is soon subdued by White, who after telling the angry prisoner to back off get's a "fuck your mother" in return. White loses it, and jumps the man, severely beating him. The entire cells turns to chaos, and nobody notices the journalists who have come downstairs to investigate the commotion. The headline in the newspaper next day reads: "Bloody Christmas", and the picture on the cover tells all.
In the aftermath, Bud White is asked to testify against his partner and the others, but refuses, and promptly gets suspended from duty. The police board's search for a police witness to testify against the perpetrators of Bloody Christmas, turns up empty, until they turn to Exley, who is glad to testify, knowing that it will make him despised inside the department. Claiming he wants justice to be served however does not stop Exley from making certain conditions for his social suicide however, and by the time the negotiations are over, he has secured himself the title of detective lieutenant. Exley, revealing his skills as a politician, suggests that they shouldn't try to sweep the case under the carpet, but shift the guilt to cops whose pensions are already secured, allowing them to retire, but hanging Stensland out to dry. Exlely also tries to include Bud White as the sacrificial lamb, but captain Smith intercedes, claiming that he is a "valuable officer." Exley also convinces the board to target Jack Vincennes as a corroborative witness. Vincennes, who hit one of the Mexicans after first being attacked is reluctant at first, but accepts to snitch on some old timers with secure pension, when the board threatens to cut his connections with Badge of Honor.He receives a demotion to vice, but comes off relatively clean in his colleagues eyes, certainly compared to Exley, who risks being ostracized by the entire department.
Stensland loses his job and his pension, and Exley earns White's hatred.
White however, gets other things on his mind, when he is approached by captain Smith, who informs him that the charges against him have been dropped after the witnesses against him have "recanted" their testimony, and offers him a new position, working as a detective in homicide. For a moment, White believes he will be allowed to work cases, but Smith pours water on his fire, telling him that "his talents lie elsewhere." White, knowing that it is his only way back in, accepts.
Around the same time, the hidden battle for Mickey Cohen's missing heroin heats up, and anyone of the mobster's old lieutenants trying to step into his shoes are violently gunned down by unknown shooters. Working to counteract the new influx of criminals pouring into LA to fill Cohen's vacuum, Smith clandestinely sets himself up at the abandoned Victory Motel in the outskirts of the city, and with the help of White's fists, "convinces" the out-of-towners that setting up their operations in his town is bad for their health.
As Jack settles into his new job in Vice, he once again comes over the fleur-de-lis, but any attempts he makes at finding out more about it fall flat. Up in homicide, Exley receives a call about a murder in downtown coffee shop "The Nite Owl Cafe". He arrives to find blood stains on the floors and walls, but no body. He follows a bloody trail leading to the back of the shop, and eventually he finds himself outside for the restroom in the back. The door opens, revealing the horrifying sight inside. Six people lay dead in a pool of blood. Outside, captain Smith arrives to take charge of the investigation, much to Exley's chagrin. Smith agrees to make him his second in command. One of the victims turns out to be Dick Stensland. His date, Susan Lefferts also died in the massacre. One of the nurses comments in passing on how be thought she was actress Rita Hayworth when she was brought in. Lefferts' mother, who has arrived at the hospital, struggles to identify her daughter, but White walks in on them, and recognizes Lefferts as the woman in the car outside of the liquor store on Christmas eve.
Working quickly, captain Smith informs his officers that a witness saw a maroon Mercury coupe standing outside the Nite Owl at the time of the shooting, and supplies a list of owners of Mercury
coupes in the area. Two-man teams are assigned three names each, and sent out to check them out. Jack, cunning as he is decides to ditch the names he is given, and check with an informant of his, who he believes will put him on the right track. His partner wants nothing to do with it, but Exley, seeing this as an opportunity, goes with him. Meanwhile, Bud White heads for the liquor store and get a hold of the billing address and the delivery address of Lynn Bracken, the woman he met in the store. As she was a friend of Lefferts, she is her strongest lead. At the delivery address he finds Pierce Patchett, the second man in the car that night. After ensuring that White isn't interested in cases peripheral to the Nite Owl killings, he informs him that Lynn and Susan were prostitutes, cut to look like movie stars. Lynn like Veronica Lake, and Susan like Rita Hayworth. White turns up at Lynn Bracken's house and questions her about both Lefferts and Patchett, but gets nothing really useful from her. There is a spark forming between them, however. She tells him that he's different, that he's the first man who hasn't told her that she looks like Veronica Lake inside of a minute, to which he replies that she looks better than Veronica Lake. As he prepares to leave, he tells her that he would like to see her again. When she asks him if he is asking for a date or an appointment, he tells her to forget it, and walks away.
In the mean time, Jack and Exley arrive at Jack's informant who tells him that the man he's looking for is called "Sugar" Ray Collins, and provides him with an address. As the two arrive at Collins' house, they find that officers Carlysle and Breuning have beaten them there. The four of them bust into the house, finding all three of the suspects inside. At the station, Exley takes charge of the interrogations. He masterfully turns the suspects against each other, and is about to turn the screws when the investigation takes an unexpected turn. One of the suspects blurts out something about a woman they kidnapped so that he could lose his cherry, but is unable to go into details. Exley turns to Sugar Ray, who doesn't reveal anything, until Bud White bursts in, pulls his revolver and removes all but one of the bullets from his revolver. He sticks the gun in Collins' mouth, and pulls the trigger once, then twice. After the third click, Collins breaks down, and give him the address where they're keeping her. The officers arrive at the house in force, but White convinces Smith to allow him to go in alone. As he sneaks inside, he finds the woman tied to a bed in one of the rooms, blood on the covers and her clothes. She nods him in the direction of the living room. Inside, a man is sitting, watching cartoons on the television. Before he can react, White fires a bullet into his chest, making him slump forward. As the rest of the cops rush towards the house, White takes out another pistol from his pocket, and fires a shot into the door frame where he entered, and puts the gun in the man's hand. As the rape victim is wheeled into the waiting ambulance, Exley tries to question her, but is immediately shoved away by a furious Bud White, who tells him to give his career a rest. A disagreement ensues, and Exley finally blurts out that "Stensland got what he deserved, and so will you". White loses it, and lunges for Exley, but is restrained before he can reach him. Smith warn Exley to stay away from him.
Back at the station, Exley learns that the three suspects managed to escape custody. Thinking quickly, he remembers another address that came up during the interrogation, and tries to find Jack to help him check the lead out. Jack is nowhere to be found, but Carlysle comes with him. At the house, they find all of the suspects, as well as the drug dealers that are harbouring them. Exley tries to arrest them, but a firefight breaks out, and Carysle and four of the criminals are killed. Collins tries to make a break for it, while Exley gives chase. He gets to the elevator, but before the doors close, Exley jams the barrel of his shotgun inside, and pulls the trigger. When he returns to the station, Exley is greeted as a hero, earning the nick-name "shotgun Ed". In the aftermath, Exley is given the Medal of Valor for his bravery, and for solving both the kidnapping and the Nite Owl killings. Jack is back on the TV show, and White, clearly smitten, spends his evenings in his car outside Lynn Bracken's house. Pierce Patchett, in the mean time, is busy blackmailing councilmen with the help of Sid Hudgens, earning him lucrative contracts with the city.
As time goes on, White starts having doubts over his work as captain Smith's enforcer during the sessions at the Victory Motel, something Smith is not oblivious to. White finally works up the courage to approach Lynn again, and the two start an affair. White slowly opens up to her, and eventually reveals to her the cause of his deep-lying hatred of women-beaters. When he was young, he was forced to watch his father beat his mother to death with a tire iron.
Jack meets Sid Hudgens at another Hollywood party, where Hudgens divulges his plan for the next big scoop. District Attorney Ellis Loew, he has learned is a closet homo-sexual, and Hudgens has, in co-operation with Matt Reynolds, the actor who was arrested by Jack for possession of marijuana devised a plan, in which Reynolds, who can't remember where he remembers Jack from, is supposed to seduce Loew, and get him back to his hotel room, where Jack can arrest them for indecent acts, while Hudgens get the exclusive photographs. He hands Jack a 50-dollar bill, and tells him where an when to show up. Before the plan goes into motion, Reynolds inadvertently reveals to Jack the nature of fleur-de-lis, the prostitution and narcotics ring headed by Pierce Patchett. Reynolds also reveals that Patchett scares him. When Reynolds starts having doubts, Jack and Sid lie to him, convincing him that no-one will know about it. Before long, Jack finds himself sitting in a bar, fiddling with the 50-dollar bill he got from Hudgens earlier that night, contemplating what his life has become. He looks in the mirror, and doesn't like what he sees. The guilt for what they are about to do to Matt Reynolds is gnawing at him, and eventually, he leaves the 50 as tips for the bartender, and walks out of the bar, and gets in his car. He arrives at Reynold's motel, intent on telling him the truth, but is shocked to discover the young man lying dead on the floor, his throat slit.
Exley's suspicions are aroused when during a trip to visit Inez Soto, the rape victim Bud White rescued, he finds out she lied about the time time when the men who kept her had left, making it unlikely for them to have been at the Nite Owl at the time of the murders. White, now also convinced that the Nite Owl killings where his friend Dick Stensland was killed is not really solved, proceeds to investigate the case on his own. His snooping eventually brings him to Susan Leffert's mother's house. He follows a strange scent coming from underneath the house, where he finds the rotting corpse of Leland Meeks, the ex-cop driver of the car Patchett and Susan was sitting in when White first met them. Not long after White has left, Exley, working his own investigation, arrives at the house, and Meeks' body is brought in to the coroner.
Struggling with whom to trust with his suspicions, Exley turns to Jack Vincennes, who is going through a crisis of conscience. Exley reveals his doubts about the Nite Owl killings, which catches Jack's interest. During the conversation Exley brings up the reason why he became a cop in the first place.
Exley:Rollo Tomasi Jack: Is there more to that, or am I supposed to guess? Exley: Rollo was a purse snatcher. My father ran into him off-duty, and he shot my father six times and got away clean. No-one even knew who he was. I just made the name up to give him a personality. Jack:What's your point? Exley:Rollo Tomasi is the reason why I became a cop. I wanted to catch the guys who though they could get away with it. It was supposed to be about justice. Then, somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that. Why'd you become a cop? Jack:Huh... I don't remember.
Jack agrees to work with Exley, under the condition that Exley helps him solve the murder of Matt Reynolds. On Exley's insistence, Jack tails Bud White, who Exley believes knows more about the
Nite Owl than he's revealing. White, staying one step ahead of the other two, seeks out Johnny Stompanato, Mickey Cohen's former body guard, who reveals that Leland Meeks was one of them men who was trying to get his hands on Cohen's missing heroin, and was killed because of it. White then returns to Lynn's house, with Exley and Jack in tow. Suspecting that White and Lynn's relationship is something more than it looks, given that Lynn is connected to the fleur-de-lis angle Jack has been investigating, they realize that there is a connection between the peripheral cases they've been working, given Matt Raynold's affiliation with Patchett and fleur-de-lis. Before seeking out Patchett, they decide to brace Stompanato to find out what Bud White talked to him about. Exley barges in on Stompanato on a date with a woman strikingly similar to actress Lana Turner. When the woman tries to get them to leave, Exley tells her to be quiet, and that "a hooker cut to look like Lana Turner is still a hooker". Stompanato gets angry, and Exley says that she just looks like Lana Turner. Jack just grins and says: "She is Lana Turner." She throws a glass of water in his face. The trip to Patchett's house yields no results.
Jack and Exley split up, and Exley goes to see Lynn Bracken. As they pull out of the drive-way, Patchett picks up the phone, and calls Sid Hudgens. At Lynn Bracken's house, Exley tries in vain to get information about her relationship to Bud White, apart from Lynn's insistence that they are only seeing each other because they are in love, and not because Pierce Patchett has her doing it. After a short intense conversation, in which Lynn says that the reason she is attracted to White is because he doesn't know how to hide the good inside him, and for all the reasons he is a different man from Exley, who she makes no secret out of disdaining. But when Exley moves in to kiss her, she doesn't reject him. The lay down on the floor, kissing and undressing each other.
Jack, meanwhile is running on empty, and decides to pay captain Smith a visit, to ask for his advice. He asks Smith about Leland Meeks, and reveals that he is working with Exley on solving the murder of Matt Reynolds, and finding the truth about the Nite Owl killings. When Smith learns that Exley doesn't know Jack is visiting him, he suddenly pulls a guns, and shoots Jack in the chest. As Jack sits dying in the chair, Smith leans in to ask if he has a valediction. With his last breath, Jack whispers the name Rollo Tomasi and smiles, before the light goes out in his eyes. After briefing his detectives about Jacks murder, supplying them with plenty of false leads, to steer the investigation away from himself, he pulls Exley aside and asks him if he can look into a man by the name Rollo Tomasi. Exley freezes, realizing immediately that Dudley is the one who killed Jack. He managed to keep a straight face, and walks away determined to get to the truth.
At the Victory Motel, Smith has brought in Sid Hudgens for questioning. During the interrogation, Hudgens reveals that he has taken pictures of a cop sleeping with Lynn Bracken for Pierce Patchett. White rushes out to his car, to find the pictures Hudgens took of Lynn and Exley. White gets in his car, and drives back into town in a fury. Confident that White will deal with the Exley-problem, Smith turns to Hudgens. Apparently. Hudgens was working with Smith to trick Bud White. But Smith, eyeing the opportunity tie up another loose end, has Hudgens killed. White arrives at Lynn's house, and in a blind rage he hits her with his fist. As the woman he loves sits crying, holding onto the door frame, White realizes that he has become exactly what he hates the most, and runs off to confront Exley. As White turns up at the station, Exley is looking though old arrest report, linking Leland Meeks and Dick Stensland to captain Smith in an unusually high amount of cases. White isn't interested however, and immediately attacks Exley. During the fight, Exley tells him that captain Smith killed Jack and wants White to kill him as well. After giving Exley a proper beating, White manages to calm down, and the pair decide to work together to bring Smith down.
The first thing they do is barge into the office of Ellis Loew, and call him out on the murder of Matt Reynolds. When he refuses any knowledge of the case, White attacks him in the bathroom, and hangs him out the window by his pants, threatening to thrown him down into the street 30 feet below. Panicking, Loew reveals that Reynolds was killed by Smith and Patchett because he overheard them threatening him into cooperating with them, in taking over Mickey Cohen's operations in the city. Because they had pictures of Reynolds with Loew, he couldn't prosecute them. They rush to Patchett's house to find that he's been killed, and whoever did it made it look like a suicide. Realizing Smith is tying up his loose ends, they rush to get Lynn, who is now one of the few survivors in the know about Patchett's dealings, to safety. White, too ashamed to face Lynn after what he did to her, sends Exley to talk to Lynn, who's being kept safe from Smith in West Hollywood sheriff station. White drives off to have a word with Sid Hudgens but soon learns that he's been killed as well.
As night falls White get's a call from Exley over the police dispatch to meet him at the Victory Motel. As soon as they both arrive, they realize they've walked into a trap, when both of them were led to believe that the other was the one who called for the meeting. Seeing the approaching head lights from several cars coming their way, they decide that it is too late to run, barricade themselves in one of the houses. As they stand, waiting for the trap to spring Exley says that all he ever wanted to do was to measure up to his father. White grins and says: "Now's your chance. He died in the line of duty, didn't he?" In the early stages of the firefight, one of Smith's men break in the front door, but is immediately cut down by White's shotgun. A volley of bullets from outside riddle the walls of the house, but Exley and White aren't hit. Two more men are killed as they try to sneak in the back. During a lull in the fighting, White crawls underneath the floorboards, and is able to take out another man looking for a way in through the basement. Exley, hearing noises from outside, climbs on top a commode by a window, and finds two of Smith's men outside. Just as he shoots them, another man comes in through the front, and hits Exley in the arm, but is subsequently shot down himself. As Exley is lying on the floor in pain, shots are fired from the back of the house, and he has to crawl for cover. With no bullets left in his pistol, and two men closing in on him, it looks like he is done for, but in the last moment, White emerges from the hole in the floor, and takes them out. Just as it seems the battle is won, and White helps Exley to his feet, Smith appears in the doorway, and shoots White twice. White slumps down on the floor. As Smith raises his gun to finish it, the injured Exley looks him straight in the eyes, and says: "Rollo Tomasi." When Smith asks who he is, Exley replies: "You are. You're the guy who gets away with it."
Don't mess with Mr. In-between
Suddenly, the still alive Bud White stabs Smith in the leg with a stiletto knife, and gets a bullet through the cheek in return. But in the mean time, Exley has gotten hold of White's shotgun, and gets the drop in Smith. Smith drops his gun, and remembering his talk with Exley earlier, realizes he isn't going to shoot him. He says that as long as he lets him to the talking, they can both come out of this whole thing as heroes. As they walk outside, and police cars are converging on them, Smith raises his badge in the air to let them know he's a police man. Suddenly a shot ruptures the silence of the night, and Smith, bleeding from a shotgun blast to the back, falls over dead.
During Exley's subsequent interrogation, he reveals the things that himself, Bud White and Jack Vincennes uncovered in their investigation of the cases surrounding the Nite Owl killings. He reveals that Stensland was killed by Breuning and Carlysle to get him back, along with Leland Meeks, for betraying him over the 25 pounds of herion that had come into their possesion during their alliance with Smith. Smith was the man behind the killings of Mickey Cohen's lieutenants, in a bid to take over organized crime power in the city himself. Exley also admitted to shooting Smith in the back at the Victory Motel. Outside the sound proof room, the DA and the chief of police are reeling from the impact this story will have once it gets out, and decide that maybe it should look like Smith died a hero. Inside, they find Exley smiling. When they ask what he is smiling about, he replies: "A hero. In this situation, you're gonna need more than one."
Days later, Exley is standing outside of city hall, recieving his second Medal Of Valor. In the papers, captain Smith is lauded for dying a hero's death. As the ceremony winds down, Exley spots Lynn in the back of the audience, and walks over to her. She has cut her hair, and doesn't look like Veronica Lake any more. She takes his arm, and they walk out into the sunlight. In a waiting car outside sits Bud White, with his arm in a sling, and unable to speak from the bullet that went through his cheek. He acknowledges Exley, and smiles when he sees him. Exley thanks him, and the two men shake hands for the last time. Exley walks over to Lynn, and she says: "Some men get the world, others get ex-hookers, and a trip to Arizona." Then she kisses his cheek, puts on her sunglasses, and bids him farewell.