1 L.A. CONFIDENTIAL Everybody knows the rudiments of the classic film-noir manner: chiaroscuro lighting, labyrinthine plots, dialogue written in battery acid. Working up imitations of it has become one of modern Hollywood's minor vices. But--a point usually missed--the style was never an end in itself. At its best it conveyed an idea about how the rottenness of big cities touches everyone, high and low, respectable and raffish. Director Curtis Hanson, working off James Ellroy's bitterly brewed novel about corrupt 1950s cops, gets that wonderfully right in a smart, complex film that exuberantly mixes comic excess, melodramatic pressure, romantic rue and an...

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