Scene Analysis | L.A. Confidential’s (1997) “Wheel Of Fortune”

I created this blog to be able to write about one of my greatest passions, which is film, and I intend on posting much more frequently on this side in 2016 whilst keeping up to date with ‘everything else’ that is housed on my main blog The Girl in Glasses | Life through a lens. It was actually thanks to my most recent follower Rob from The V-Pub that I was encouraged to dust off the specs and start writing here again, so big S/O to him!

I watch movies week in, week out but over the festive period I always like to challenge myself to watch as many Christmassy films on the build up to the big day on the 25th. I have decided that, rather than writing a review, I would select one of those films and put it under the microscope in a short scene analysis…


…and the crowd goes wild!

All of my views, thoughts and opinions are highly subjective but that is the beauty of watching films, they are open to interpretation. The film that we are going to take a closer look at is the American neo-noir crime mystery L.A. Confidential (1997) – because nothing says ‘Christmas’ like corruption and murder… On a serious note, there are some Christmas lights and Bing Crosby numbers thrown into the mix.

To give you a little bit of background on this
jolly old affair: The film, which is based on a LA Confidential.jpgbest-selling novel by James Ellroy, is set in the 1950’s Los Angeles. Three very different cops, each with their own set of motives and obsessions, are out to discover the truth on an unsolved murder that took place at an all-night diner downtown.

Detective Lieutenant Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is the ‘golden boy’ of the force and being the son of a murdered detective he wants to avenge his father’s killing.

Bud White (Russell Crowe) is the complete opposite and is willing to break the rules to seek justice, even if it results in violence.

Sergeant Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), who is always on the lookout to make a quick buck, often feeding classified information to tabloid tycoon Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), joins Exley and White down their one-way path and deeper into the dark world of L.A. crime.

The film has a multi-layered linear plot, which explores the crime scene in America in a subversive manner and deals with contemporary issues such as: Law and order, substance abuse, racism, stereotypes and the cult of “celebrity.”

“The Wheel of Fortune” sequence is a turning point in the narrative as it reveals how the fortune of the characters changes, either for the better or for the worse, through a montage of clips. Watch the full scene:

The hit record “Wheel of Fortune” by singer Kay Starr supports the scene and at the beginning of the track there is the sound of a roulette table, which signifies the gamble that Ed Exley takes when he opens gunfire and shoots the night owl suspects dead.

Who would have thought it? …Shotgun Ed!


Immediately after the shooting, the elevator door opens and the camera focuses in on a mid close-up of Ed’s face, pausing for a moment. As an audience we are made to feel vulnerable as the camera is positioned in a low-angle shot looking up at the disillusioned cop. The film then jump cuts to the moment that Ed returns to the Police Department, where he is being praised for his actions. The camera initially focuses on his co-workers, as opposed to the “hero”, this is to give us a greater sense of what Ed is being faced with.


Semiology is used to convey shorthand messages to the audience, who have subconsciously formed opinions of the characters as a result of these subtle signs. In the case of Ed Exley, he is portrayed at the beginning of the film as being a slick character with neatly combed back hair and glasses; however at this point in the film that demeanour has  diminished. Taking a Clark Kent approach, Ed isn’t wearing his glasses during the shooting and later when he receives the Medal of Valour for his heroism. In this shot the camera is placed at a high-angle, isolating Ed at the centre of the frame and placing the audience in the dominant position, looking down on Exley and judging him. Exley has come to terms with the amoral reality of life in the L.A.P.D., concluding that he can’t be the “good” cop to succeed but has his life changed for the better?


At the same time, Jack Vincennes has reappeared as he, too, has received recognition for the night owl manhunt, which has boosted his career as he steps into the role of ‘advisor’ on the television programme “Badge of Honor.” During this shot, Jack walks up to the camera from a long distance – literally getting bigger, just like his status. He also comes out of the shadows and we see a close-up of his face, Jack is in the spotlight again and he looks pretty happy about it, dontcha think?


Meanwhile, Bud White yearns for the love of femme fatale Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), who is standing in the porch of a house and framed beneath an arched window, similarly shaped to that which you might see in a place of worship. With the careful positioning and golden dress, she resembles that of an angel or a trophy, one that is too far out of reach for Bud, who is watching her from his vehicle.


This picture is very dark, shadowed and rain-drenched, which acts as a tribute to film noir. The type of camera angle employed here is a long shot, which further gives the impression that Lynn is far away and hard for Bud to reach, there is a literal and metaphorical distance between the two characters. Bud has had a “tough” exterior throughout the film and he remains expressionless in the close-up shot, though the rain that is trickling down his windscreen reflects as tears on his face.


In a complete role reversal, Bud comes to the realisation that crime can be resolved without using violence; he looks uncomfortable whilst the cops in the room opposite him use aggressive force on a suspect. The camera holds on a close-up of Bud’s face, adding tension to the moment, whilst shadows are used to display Bud’s fear, he is ready to remove his mask and reveal his true identity.

“Everything is suspect… everyone is for sale… and nothing is what it seems.”

Film Signature

Twitter: @xGIRLinGLASSESx




4 thoughts on “Scene Analysis | L.A. Confidential’s (1997) “Wheel Of Fortune”

  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Adele! I’ve never seen this film and now will have to seek it out. The film, at least at the surface, seemed like an attempt at film noir. So, do we compare these modern noir films to the classics, like The Big Sleep? It’s hard! Do you like SciFi films? To me, Bladerunner is like a futuristic film noir with robots. Would love to read your opinion!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome! L.A. Confidential is a neo-noir film, it is rooted in the traditions of film noir but it puts a modern spin on the material. I’m not sure that I would compare these films to the classics, despite being rooted in the genre, they merely ‘tip their hat’ to the greats, which is surely the ultimate form of flattery! L.A. Confidential uses some film noir techniques to accentuate the dark themes but the excessive violence and formerly taboo topics reflect a change in societal tolerances of content since the original film noirs in the 40’s and 50’s – but that’s just my opinion! I *love* science fiction films and television shows, Blade Runner is one of the best IMO. Let me know if you get to give L.A. Confidential a watch 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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