Cast: Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, Graham Beckel, Simon Baker Denny, Matt McCoy, John Mahon, Paul Guilfoyle, Ron Rifkin, Paolo Seganti, Amber Smith, Gwenda Deacon, Brenda Bakke, Elisabeth Granli, Symba Smith, Darrell Sandeen, Bob Clendenin, Sandra Taylor, Steve Rankin, Allan Graf, Precious Chong, Lennie Loftin, Will Zahrn, Michael Warwick, Shawnee Free Jones, Matthew Allen Bretz, Thomas Rosales Jr., Tomas Arana, Jim Metzler, Gregory White, Jordan Marder, Gene Wolande
In Los Angeles, gangster Mickey Cohen (Guilfoyle) is arrested and convicted on Federal charges of tax evasion. Mayhem, drugs and the sins of Hollywood denizens are the usual fodder for Sid Hudgeons (DeVito), the editor of Hush-Hush magazine, a tabloid specializing on news that are “off the record, on the Q.T. and very Hush-Hush.” Hudgeons luridly describes how Cohen’s imprisonment changes the power structure of the Los Angeles criminal underworld. On Christmas Eve, 1953, Detective Bud White (Crowe) and his partner Dick Stensland (Beckel) are out buying liquor for a Los Angeles Police Department Christmas party. At the liquor store, White comes across Lynn Bracken (Basinger), a beautiful girl placing a large order for home delivery. Carrying the liquor to his car, White notices, in a car parked nearby, a young woman with puffy eyes and a bandaged nose. White has a gentle, protective spot for women, and suspects that the girl has been roughed up. He walks over to the car and is confronted by the driver, Buzz Meeks (Sandeen), a former policeman and now a bodyguard for the other man in the car, Pierce Patchett (Strathairn). White quickly disables Meeks and disarms him, then checks on the girl. Patchett tells White that she’s fine, and the girl, Susan Lefferts (Amber Smith), confirms it. Then Lynn arrives, tells White, “It’s not what you think,” and gets in Patchett’s car. Detective Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Spacey) wears stylish clothes and mixes with Hollywood’s elite. He is the technical advisor for the popular TV show Badge of Honor. Vincennes collaborates with Hudgeons in staging celebrity arrests that are then graphically described in Hush-Hush magazine. That evening, Hudgeons arranges for Vincennes to arrest young Hollywood star Matt Reynolds (Baker Denny) and the girl with him on charges of possession of mariguana. The arrest is captured on film by a Hush-Hush photographer. At the central Los Angeles Police station, Captain Dudley Smith (Cromwell) advises Sgt. Ed Exley (Pierce), the watch commander for the night, not to pursue a career as a detective. Smith says that a detective may need to bend the law to achieve ultimate justice. Exley disagrees, saying that he can achieve justice in lawful ways. Booze is passed around and the policemen’s celebrations become increasingly wild. A group of Mexican immigrants are brought to the station, suspected of having injured a policeman. Quick-tempered officers decide to rough up the Mexicans, Exley is unable to control them, and a melee ensues. The next day, newspapers publish photographs of policemen beating up the suspects. The incident is investigated and as a result White is suspended for refusing to implicate his partner. But Exley testifies, and Stensland and others are fired. Exley is rewarded with a promotion to Lieutenant, but is shunned by many policemen for informing on one of their own. Captain Smith reinstates White, on condition that he assist in roughly but discreetly running out of town gangsters who would take over Cohen’s criminal operation. One night there’s a shooting at a coffee shop called the Nite Owl. Six people are killed, including Stensland and Susan Lefferts. Exley, White and Vincennes become involved in the investigation. Exley is driven by ambition, White seeks revenge on whoever killed Stensland and Susan Lefferts, and Vincennes finds a clue that intrigues him. Sometimes working together and sometimes separately, the three detectives follow threads of evidence that lead them to Pierce Patchett, who runs an operation with exquisite call girls who are ringers for movie stars. White’s inquiries take him to Lynn Bracken, and they become romantically involved. The investigation takes an unexpected turn when different paths of inquiry hint at something dark and very dangerous behind the Nite Owl killings. Based on the novel of the same name by James Ellroy.