Here is an engrossing character-driven drama set in Hollywood during the 1950s. Curtis Hanson's screen adaptation of James Ellroy's densely plotted novel is richly atmospheric, beautifully acted, and well directed. Better than any other recent film this one shows the shadow side of authority — the dark, obsessive, and violent things that are done in service of control, power, and greed. A multiple murder in an all-night diner leads to exposure of police corruption, a high-class prostitution racket, hijacked heroin, political scandal, and underworld mayhem.

Terrific and nuanced performances are given by Guy Pearce as a college-educated cop with ideals who's trying to follow in his hero father's footsteps, Russell Crowe as a violent policeman who's smarter than everyone thinks, Kevin Spacey as a slick detective who dabbles in showbiz as an advisor to a television series about cops, Danny DeVito as an editor of a sleazy Hollywood tabloid, and David Strathairn as a multimillionaire who's involved in several illegal activities. Kim Basinger, winner of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, portrays a prostitute who's been made over to look like Veronica Lake. L.A. Confidential is a crime thriller that reveals the shadowy world of city life where things are never what they seem.