Saturday, 14 July 2012

Sitting Under the Shade of the Tree: L.A. Confidential

It's time for a slight divergence from my usual sci-fi, a bit of infinite diversity in infinite combinations to spice things up. The following instalment of Sitting Under the Shade of the Tree features a hard-boiled detective thriller, James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential.

Some of you may remember that back when I rambled about The Man in the High Castle, I mentioned having previously "demolished" a James Ellroy book. That was The Big Nowhere, book two of Ellroy's LA Quartet. L.A. Confidential is book three and, in an ironic twist, the book that actually started it all for me. Allow to put things into context.

It may be common(ish) knowledge that in 1997, L.A. Confidential was adapted into a film, directed by Curtis Hanson and starring Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito. To name but a few of the names cropping up in the movie. It was here that my inevitable journey to reading the LA Quartet began. I loved the film. When I discovered it was based on a book, I decided I had to read it. I then discovered that, as aforementioned, it's book three of four and being borderline OCD, I had to read book one (The Black Dahlia) first.

Eventually, last year, I bought The Black Dahlia and then, round about the beginning(ish) of this year, my reading pile finally decreased to the point where I was able to read it. Instantly impressed and engrossed by Ellroy's writing, I went out and bought The Big Nowhere and L.A. Confidential. Last week, I finally finished the book I'd been building up to for so long.

Now. Enough context. Time for some substance.

To set the scene, it's Christmas 1951 in Los Angeles. Three LAPD officers are about to be set on an inevitable collision course that will shatter their lives apart - ambitious ladder-climber Sergeant Edmund Exley, brute force thug Officer Wendell "Bud" White and flash celebrity narcotics hound Sergeant Jack Vincennes. They're all caught up in Bloody Christmas, a scandal that gives the LAPD a black eye, only this is merely the start of spiral downwards for the three officers. From the ashes of Bloody Christmas comes the Nite Owl Massacre, a heinous crime that brings the three into conflict, then eventually a bizarre partnership as they peel back the layers of deception the crime is veiled in, threatening their careers and their lives in the process.

Ellroy's novels are incredibly compelling. I'm used to crime thrillers that focus on the crime, the evidence, the nail-biting cat-and-mouse game between criminals and the cops. But with Ellroy...well. His novels are pretty much a journey into the heart of darkness that resides inside these cops - usually all inevitably crooked or corruptible in some way. And these journeys, they're frakking intense. I'll admit, L.A. Confidential wasn't as intense as The Big Nowhere (that was some dark stuff right there, but no less brilliant and awesome a novel), but nonetheless, it was a compelling read, but also for the similarities to the movie. It was brilliant to see how all the actors in the movie perfectly suited the characters in the book and even more gleeful when I found lines of dialogue that I recognised from the movie. A lot of the time it was in an entirely different context, spoken by an entirely different character, but I still had a little smile and a little "Hey, I remember that".

In reference to the movie and the similarities, I think one of the most intriguing things I found in reading L.A. Confidential is how the screenwriters managed to take the source material - the third in a quadrilogy - and make a stand-alone movie from it, but still make it recognisable enough that (I imagine) fans of the book wouldn't be tearing their hair and screaming "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU PLAYING AT?" Okay, so in fairness I did the whole thing a bit backwards, movie then book, much like I did with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but I have very good reasons for that. Digression aside, I'm still impressed by the job the screenwriters did. Ellroy's book is a beautifully twisted tale and while the screenwriters couldn't fit everything in, they did a fine job of get the bare bones across, with the actors filling in the rest and making a brilliant film noir-esque journey into the corrupt heart of the 1950s Los Angeles Police Department.

So there you have it. Fans of the film, read the book. It's so much grittier and darker and sheds so much more light (ironically) on the motivations of the characters. Fans of the book, if you haven't seen it, fear not the film. It does well.

Until next reading pile grows ever larger, with the entire volumes one to five of the Song of Ice and Fire series due on Wednesday. I'll have plenty of books to keep writing about.

No comments:

Post a Comment