Friday, October 7, 2011

Film Pairing — Murder & Politics, Not So Strange Bedfellows

Mixing politics and murder often makes for a great story. There are real life dramas surrounding the assassination of the Kennedys. Certainly the New Orleans-connected killing of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby could be the basis for a fascinating film if we every figured out what went on. And fiction pales against the stories of the killing of Martin Luther King, the disappearances of James Hoffa and Judge Crater as well as the attempt on George Wallace’s and Ronald Reagan’s lives.

But there are a number of films that deal with the mix of murder and politics. And given that we are subjected to politics, politics, politics all day long, here are two movies — studies in corruption — that can accompany today’s news.

The first is City Hall (1996). It is based on an original screenplay, and is set in contemporary New York. John Cusack, Danny Aiello and Bridget Fonda join Al Pacino. (Also, there is a brilliant appearance by Martin Landau.)

Some of the mystery blogs are listing the all-time great over-actors. Pacino is listed in the top ten. Admittedly, he chews a bit of the scenery in this one as well; but I don’t know who else could have played the savvy and charismatic mayor of New York as convincingly — and the ability to be both a saint and Satan is essential to the plot. Whether you figure it all out or not before the film let’s you in on it — and you might — it’s worth seeing if for no other reason than to be reminded how idealism is smashed in a sacrifice to the reality, perhaps necessity, of compromise. Someone once said that to fall in love with a politician is to have your heart broken.

LA Confidential (1997) has it all. It is based on James Ellroy’s book and has one of the best casts money can buy. Instead of 1990s New York, we visit 1950s L.A. The cast includes Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Bassinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell and David Stratham — all dealing with scandal, sleaze, crime and corruption. Much of the film’s action hovers around the needs of a magazine called Hush, Hush. I remember when I was twelve or thirteen. With some degree of embarrassment, I would go to the magazine section of the drug store and open up the pages of a sleazy scandal sheet called Confidential to see what lurid activities Hollywood stars were engaged in. Afterward, I’d feel I’d looked into a world I wasn’t supposed to see. I remember feeling a mix of excitement and disgust. That is pretty much what L.A. Confidential, nominated for nine Academy Awards, is about. It is also very much about L.A. In that sense, there might be a case for pairing Confidential with Chinatown. Not a bad idea, either, but it might be too much L.A. for one evening.

It’s whiskey on the rocks for the entire evening. No soda.

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