Kevin Spacey plays the role of Jack Vincennes is a rather knowing fashion which could not be a better fit for the character. Spacey really plays Vincennes as a movie start type guy as we see in his opening scene at a Hollywood party. Spacey's great in the role as he definitely has a certain sleaze in his personal style, and you know from the very beginning that Vincennes is hardly a great cop. Of course this is a tricky thing to do as Spacey could have easily made Vincennes so sleazy that you simply wanted to punch him like many likely wanted to do to his character in Glengarry Glen Ross. Spacey manages to avoid this by bringing so much actual charm along with the sleaze. It is not even that Spacey plays it as though Vincennes is trying to hide his less savory qualities with his charisma, no rather Spacey is able to make at all a singular package, and the little bit of sleaze actually manages to add a bit to his style. Spacey is just wonderful at making Vincennes quite likable while being quite despicable at the same time.
Vincennes gets caught up with the by the books detective Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), and the bender of rules detective Bud White (Russell Crowe) when he gets involved with a case of police brutality mainly because one of the beaten suspects got blood on his clothes causing Vincennes to join in. Vincennes is forced to actually be a cop again until he can get a major bust to once again regain his position as the detective of the stars. This includes working with Ed Exley to track down the killers of a group of people in a dinner. Spacey rather slyly shows a bit of a different side as Vincennes investigates with Exley. On one level Spacey still is Vincennes being Vincennes as Spacey plays the whole investigation as though Vincennes doesn't care and to a certain extent finds the whole thing just annoying requirement for the job. In this regard Spacey is quite entertaining in portraying Vincennes's somewhat careless attitude right down to the way he strolls around the crime scene while everyone else is so intense. His performance is only further amplified by how well he plays off Pearce who plays Ed as such a fervent straight arrow.
As I noted before though that Spacey does allude to another side even though Vincennes is still far from being the ideal detective. In the scenes of the investigation Spacey very quietly shows the same sort of conviction and intelligence in Vincennes's method as a detective as Pearce does in a more forward fashion with Exley. Spacey shows in these brief moments that there is a great detective in Vincennes somewhere, but in his investigation of the case Spacey portrays Vincennes as only putting enough effort in to get the case done. There is no genuine passion in Spacey's performance rather his work shows Vincennes to be basically a true professional who is just kinda phoning it in that way he simply can back to what he truly loves, which is of course living the high life. After the "successful" investigation Vincennes goes right back to his old world, even going back to help Hudgens with another frame up and sting job going so far as to even help Hudgens convince the target, a troubled young actor, to prostitute himself with the promise of a career boon.
Spacey is outstanding in the scene right after agreeing to do the job for Hudgens for a quick buck and a little bit more fame. The scene is simple and silent for Spacey as Vincennes simply looks at himself in the mirror, and it is absolutely perfectly played by Spacey. In just his reaction we see the conflict in Vincennes, and Spacey so beautifully realizes this moment where Vincennes finally sees just how much he has compromised. Spacey is surprisingly moving as he so honestly creates this crisis of conscious in Vincennes. What I love about it is that he never undercuts Vincennes as a character. It is only when he is completely alone that Spacey shows just how distraught Vincennes is over his terrible mistake, and when he is around his fellow officers he does try to be his old self. Of course Spacey is exceptional when there are very brief moments where Vincennes talks about his mistakes to the Ed. Spacey kinda rushes through this moments which is actually exactly as Vincennes should react as he wants to simply recognize the mistake to Ed but never let Ed see just how much he has been troubled by it.
Spacey's performance, like so many elements of L.A. Confidential, is something I completely adore. Spacey is completely pitch perfect in the role, and his work adds so much to the film. Although of course just like all his other male counterpoints he was of course ignored by the Academy, although I guess to their credit he may have suffered slightly from category confusion since his eventual BAFTA nomination was in lead. His performance is one that just is a very entertaining to watch. Spacey in some of his lesser performances can maybe try to show off a little too much, but here it completely works for his character as well as the film as a whole. Spacey also never leaves this as just a fun portrayal, although it certainly works in that regard. Spacey as well, like all the other performances I have reviewed from this film, does a marvelous job of revealing his character as someone far more complex than they might have seemed from the outset. In Spacey's case he gives that very enjoyable depiction of a shallow man in the beginning but ends up giving some of the most poignant moments in the film as he gradually reveals that maybe Jack Vincennes is a far better man than even he would like to admit.