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Crooked reporter Danny DeVito and vice cop Kevin Spacey set up sensational stories for a Los Angeles scandal sheet in the 50s and become enmeshed in the investigation of a multiple murder. Things get ultracomplicated as detectives both on and off the case—savvy James Cromwell, perversely macho Russell Crowe, and even ethical Guy Pearce—become suspicious of one another's motives and jockey for status. The back-to-basics violence of this deeply plotted crime story (1997) is fresh and demanding. Well-drawn characters on either side of every conflict pummel each other in bouts of carefully crafted combat accompanied by brutal sound effects, and when shots are fired each bullet carries the emotional impact of the relationship between the shooter and the target—whether or not it finds its mark. These action scenes are much harder to watch than trendy high-tech balletic stuff with scores of anonymous victims and victors; even the blood-drenched scene-of-the-crime set pieces are shocking—no matter how inured you've become to phony gore. In fact, this movie restores genre elements to a level of potency that's disturbing, satisfying, and rare as hell. Based on the James Ellroy novel and scripted by Brian Helgeland and director Curtis Hanson. 136 min.

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