The film is on the Oscar shortlist, but lacks moviegoers to help it sell

On paper, Warner Bros.’ L.A. Confidential seems to have the right stuff: glowing reviews, critical praise for stars Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe, and an eye-catching comeback by Kim Basinger. In reality, Confidential has been all but ignored by mainstream moviegoers — in 11 weeks, it’s pulled in just $35 million — which puts Warner in a tough spot: For Confidential to be a hit, it needs to earn Oscar nominations, especially Best Picture.

Impossible? Maybe not. By all accounts, director Curtis Hanson’s complex crime drama is on every Oscar handicapper’s short list. Still, for a studio to need Oscar nods simply to get the word out on a good film seems to indicate a marketing meltdown. Indeed, rival studio executives say flatly that Warner bungled the Confidential case. ”You have to ask [if] they understood the potential of this movie,” says a veteran Oscar strategist who questioned the film’s murky promotional campaign, obscure poster art, and particularly, its release in the no-man’s-land of September. Agrees another rival exec: ”I don’t think they knew what they had.”

Warner’s response is, uh, blunt. ”They can kiss my ass,” says Chris Pula, the studio’s president of theatrical marketing. ”It’s easy to p — on someone else’s campaign. We’ve got a brilliant movie — but anyone who thinks it’s an easy sell is an idiot.” And Warner distribution chief Barry Reardon explains that the release date was positioned to play off the Cannes film festival in May, ”where it got huge publicity. We felt we’d use that.”

One thing’s clear: Warner will pull out all the stops for Confidential‘s Oscar push. Since Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil opened to tepid notices last month, Confidential is the studio’s best shot at an Academy Award. Thus, says an insider, there’ll be campaigns ”across the board.” And with the Golden Globes around the corner, says Reardon, ”we still have two good shots” at making money.

L.A. Confidential
  • Movie
  • 138 minutes