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Movies of 1997 Bracket Game: L.A. Confidential vs Jackie Brown

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Here we have the de facto championship of our unofficial crime section of this bracket. It’s just the second competition of this second round and my format for it has already blown up in my face. How you ask? Join me below and be prepared to be annoyed with me.


Before we get to that though, let’s cover something that can’t be pinned on me. Our first second round match went down to the wire, with a single vote pushing Boogie Nights past Good Will Hunting mere moments before I wrote this sentence. That means today’s winner will face it in the final four.

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As you know if you joined us for yesterday’s contest, I promised a second round in which I focused on the qualities of a highlighted scene from each of the featured films. I had so little trouble with the assignment for either Boogie Nights or Good Will Hunting that I guess I feel I should be forgiven for thinking I’d have no trouble with the remaining flicks. Unfortunately that just wasn’t to be. When I went looking for a representative scene for the widely lauded L.A. Confidential however, I came up against a reality that I had mostly forgotten – – I don’t actually like the movie very much. Let’s take the below scene as an example.

The movie is full of cliches like this. How many times have we seen different versions of this? Hanging a guy out a window to pump him for information is a pretty tired trope. Maybe it’s not the fault of these filmmakers, but my first association with the tactic comes from A Fish Called Wanda, in which it is lampooned. For me, its supposedly shocking or menacing intent is undercut by its by-the-numbers feel. Only letting the guy actually fall would redeem it. Another thing that bothers me about the scene is that it leans pretty darn heavy on its trust that the audience will just automatically hate the guy they’re talking to. And why not? He’s not one of our protagonists. In fact he’s in their way. And Oooooooo– he’s a lawyer. Hate him yet? No? Fine then, we’ll make him turn unreasonable as the scene goes on. Clearly the guy is dirty, but on its face what did they think they were going to hear from him even if he was a completely ethical guy? Not much different from what he first tells them, I’d expect. Really? A tail on two decorated officers just because? No evidence? I’d have tossed them out of my office too, and I’m as pure as the driven snow.

And I’m not just picking on this one scene. The movie has a few like it. How about the one where Bud goes out of his way to take down a wife beater? Obviously I’m not here to complain about what he does in a real world sense, but it’s another example of the movie making use of a monumentally creaky trope. Bud isn’t a particularly trustworthy cop, so let’s give him a scene where he’s undoubtedly the hero and in the right. So which will it be? kiddie porn? wife beater? animal abuse?…wife beater, let’s go with wife beater, that way it ties back in with his instinct to save the call girl played by Kim Basinger. That’s clever, right? Let’s see, what other cliches can we throw at the scene? I know, make him threaten the guy with jailhouse rape. That always gets chuckles…oh, and make the guy fat.

Much of L.A. Confidential is skillfully made, but lazy scenes like these and an overriding sense that I didn’t give a rat’s ass what happened to anybody left me shrugging as I walked out of the theater. Come on, bring the hate.

In contrast, Quentin Tarantino manages to make us really care about his unethical characters in his Elmore Leonard adaptation Jackie Brown, and the script finds ways to play on the audience’s expectations creatively. Heck, I don’t even think I need to set this scene up whether you’ve seen the movie already or not.

There’s a difference between an event in a movie being predictable and in executing something predictably. On my first viewing of Jackie Brown, I was pretty sure what final result was intended for Beaumont, but this is a case in which cutting to the chase would have been so much less interesting. There is tension sometimes in inevitability, because as experienced filmgoers we are so often presented with seemingly impossible situations and then are treated to the spectacle of characters somehow finding their way out of them. Due to this, if the inevitable gets delayed at all, our movie-going brain starts to believe that it might not be so inevitable after all. This story knows this and mines both humor and suspense out of the situation, with Tarantino producing a very self-assured scene with a series of visually interesting shots.

First, he gives us a shot of the two actors from a camera placed inside the trunk in question which lasts more than a minute and a half. It’s a testament both to his confidence as a director and to the skill of the performers involved that this works, as we watch Jackson’s character negotiate a man to his own death and Tucker eventually give in to what he knows on some level is a bad idea. Once he’s in the trunk and Jackson is in the driver’s seat, the time he takes in putting on his gloves tells us all we need to know. He’s not in a hurry, but he sure is purposeful. The topper on the scene is how Tarantino moves from these close shots, even beginning tight on the car before letting it drive away from us. Once again he plays with our expectations by extending this shot, not cutting to another location as we would predict, but instead revealing the vehicle in the distance by suddenly transitioning to a crane shot as it pulls into an abandoned lot just on the other side of a nearby fence. We get to see the postscript to the up close scenes we’ve been watching, but this time from far away. We no longer have to deal with it personally, but we still feel a little complicit.

Okay, obviously I’ve taken sides here, but the decision about which movie advances is really up to you readers. Vote here and then tell us in the comments section what the primary reasons for your vote were.

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Posted on January 27, 2017, in bracket game, Movies, poll and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. How fitting that on the day that these two movies face off in the bracket game, it’s the birthday of a major member of each film’s cast.

    As someone who likes both of these movies—they are probably my two favorites from 1997—I would be pleased to see either one advance. They are both blessed with terrific casts and are both very skillful adaptations of very good novels. However, I give the nod to L.A. Confidential since adapting James Ellroy’s novel posed far greater storytelling problems than Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch—it would have been very easy for the film to degenerate into an incoherent mess.

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  2. Good Will Hunting lost….? That pretty much eliminates about 70% of my interest in this game, especially with Titanic and Air Force One already having gone down in round one.
    My only real favourites left right now are The Fifth Element and Liar Liar, and something tells me there’s a significant chance they might not make it past this round.
    Might just be the very first bracket game where I have zero interest in the final, which is weird considering I was really looking forward to this 1997 game. 🙁

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    • Good Will Hunting went down swinging coming up short by a single vote. I think the Fifth Element stands as good a chance of making it to the final as any other movie in its half of the bracket. Of course this is coming from the person who placed Titanic and Men in Black in the 1 and 2 slots only to see them both go down in the first round. There’s no telling what will happen.

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    • I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Liar Liar or The Fifth Element advance to the next round. We could even see them face off against each other if they both win. I frankly didn’t think 5th Element had a chance against Men in Black. Shows what I know. This game’s been pretty unpredictable. MIB, which I considered a favorite to win, got knocked out in round 1. Boogie Nights, which I figured would win, struggled to get past round 2. And it looks like LA Confidential, which I thought had a pretty good chance, is getting knocked out today. You just never know.

      The only thing I’m confident of is that we will have some good movies in the finals.

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  3. I voted for “The Game” against “Jackie Brown” knowing that it would probably lose anyway (it did), and even though I love the noir feel of “L.A. Confidential”, I think “Jackie Brown” is a slightly better film and enjoyable too, so I’ll vote for it here.

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  4. Looks like this is going to be a pretty close one—as it should be.

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  5. Just wanted to compliment you on your write up of the trunk scene in Jackie Brown, Daffy. I love how Tarantino allows this long scene room to breathe between Jackson and Tucker. He allows this scene all the time in the world to organically get to where it’s going to go, and this is a key area where Tarantino separates himself from other filmmakers who often rush to get to the finish. One of my favorite touches is when Jackson gets into the car and methodically starts putting on his driving gloves. He now has Tucker in the trunk and he is in full control. No need to rush. He’s almost relishing the moment, taking his time before driving off. When I saw the film for the first time on the big screen I specifically remember finding appreciation in the fact that Tarantino continued holding that shot with a camera crane to its conclusion as Jackson drove a block or two away into an abandoned lot, and we see him calmly execute Tucker from a distance instead of breaking away to another in-close camera angle during the execution, which I was aware most other directors would do. It’s a great scene in a great movie.

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    • Thanks Craig! I really appreciate you and everyone else who drops in to participate and comment. Tarantino is a truly knowledgeable and skilled filmmaker, even in those times when I’m not a fan of the overall final product. It’s always rewarding to consider the use he makes of the camera and the tension he builds into his work.

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  6. I have been conflicted on this one for a while. I was leaning towards Jackie Brown, but I hadn’t quite gotten off the fence to vote. Your write-up confirmed my gut feeling. I cast my vote for JB.

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  7. Now I’m bitter. Twice L.A. CONFIDENTIAL got shoved to weekend posts so I didn’t see it. I didn’t get to vote for it once before it was jettisoned by this lesser film.

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