BEFORE he attained superstar status in Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind, Russell Crowe starred in LA Confidential (Friday, 10.20pm, M Thriller/Crime), a dazzlingly accomplished noir police thriller based on a James Ellroy novel. I don’t think I’ve seen him in better form. Curtis Hanson’s film is about corruption and betrayal in the upper reaches of the Los Angeles Police Department, where the detectives are all scoundrels, hardened cynics or misguided idealists. Bud White (Crowe) is a loner, embittered by a harsh childhood, who tangles with Guy Pearce’s ambitious and sanctimonious Ed Exley. Every imaginable racket — drugs, pornography, prostitution — is allotted its share of attention. But the star of the film is LA itself, lovingly re-created in all its 1950s sleaze and charm. One character runs an escort service specialising in girls who have been worked over by plastic surgeons to resemble famous movie stars. Rita Hayworth’s look-alike is bumped off early on and Veronica Lake becomes the romantic lead. When detectives spot a suspicious couple in a bar and threaten to arrest the girl, she turns out to be the real Lana Turner.
Also showing this week are two fine films by French directors about English characters. Francois Ozon, who scored a hit in Cannes this year with Young and Beautiful, and whose 2012 film, In the House, opens here later this month, directed Swimming Pool (Monday, 9.30pm, World Movies) in 2003. Many consider it his masterpiece. Charlotte Rampling plays Sarah Morton, an English writer of crime fiction. At its deepest level the film is about the springs of creative writing, but it is also an engrossing mystery story by turns harsh, tender and frightening. Louis Malle’s Damage (Tuesday, 9.30pm, World Movies) is among the most powerful erotic dramas the cinema has given us. With a screenplay by David Hare from Josephine Hart’s novel, a plot that comes perilously close to melodramatic soap is made unforgettable by the clinical intensity of Malle’s direction. Jeremy Irons is a respected British member of parliament who becomes infatuated with his son’s girlfriend (Juliette Binoche) and begins a passionate affair with tragic consequences.
Released in the US as The Invaders, 49th Parallel (Tuesday, 11.45pm, Fox Classics) is a classic wartime drama from those legendary collaborators, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, filmed mainly in Canada. Concealing their identities, six survivors from a disabled German U-boat set out on a perilous trek from the Gulf of St Lawrence to a trading post in Hudson Bay, meeting some strange characters (Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard, Raymond Massey) along the way. There is a powerful and eloquent anti-fascist message, and a truly scary performance from Eric Portman as a Nazi loyalist.
(M) ★★★★✩ Monday, 9.30pm, World Movies
(MA15+) ★★★★✩ Friday, 10.20pm, M Thriller/Crime
(M) ★★★★✩ Tuesday, 11.45pm, Fox Classics
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