- Acceptable Targets: Those framed for The Night Owl murders were, in the words of Exley, "because they were Negroes and because they had records."
- Alas, Poor Scrappy: Sid Hudgens is despicable, especially his setting up Reynolds to blackmail Loew, but the way Dudley double-crosses and then shoots him point-blank? You can't help but feel a little bad for the guy.
- Award Snub:
- Often held up as one for its Best Picture loss to Titanic (1997).
- Likewise, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and Kevin Spacey all failed to even earn nominations in the acting categories (the former two likely due to still being relatively unknown at the time).
- This film did one-up Titanic by beating it to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
- Complete Monster:
- In the film adaptation, Captain Dudley Smith is a corrupt police officer who tries to get control of all criminal activity in Los Angeles after the fall of gangster Mickey Cohen leaves a power vacuum behind. He chases away or kills off all criminal opposition in the city. When officer Dick Stensland and private bodyguard Buzz Meeks try to get more out of a major heroin deal they made with him he kills both of them, one in a diner massacre that leaves a dozen innocent people dead. He frames a trio of black criminals for the massacre, and orders them killed during the arrest by his associates to make sure they won't talk. His plan is undermined by other cops arriving on the scene, but he manipulates the men of the department into killing the fall guys later on anyway. He arranges to execute any cop who discovers his corruption, and kills off all his business partners to tie up any loose ends. Even after a major shootout with the last two good cops that leaves all his minions dead he just carries on as usual, intending to use his position to get away with his crimes and restart his organization anew.
- In the novel series L.A. Quartet: Captain Dudley Liam Smith is a seemingly jovial, friendly police captain who hides a truly dark and monstrous corrupt nature under his smile. Having been personally responsible for the infamous Sleepy Lagoon murder out of racism, Dudley is also heavily involved in crime, clandestinely manipulating and dealing with multiple crime families as he runs a personal squad where he has many people murdered for profit or to cover loose ends even if he has to allow brutal killers to remain at large and committing their crimes. Not even other cops are safe, with Dudley murdering his old lackey Buzz Meeks as a loose end. When the cop Daniel Upshaw stumbles upon evidence of Dudley's murders, Dudley delights in torturing him psychologically by threatening to reveal Upshaw's homosexuality until Upshaw breaks and kills himself. In one brutal gang execution, Dudley would commit his most infamous crime and personally strangle the Herrick family's two-day-old baby to death. With a body count most serial killers can only dream of, and a complete lack of conscience mixed with insatiable greed and cruelty, Dudley proves time to be the worst monster in LA, endlessly shielding himself with his badge and connections.
- Ethnic Scrappy: Inez, in the movie (who is barely even given an identity other than "the Mexican girl" the Nite Owl suspects kidnapped and raped). She averts it in the book, becoming Preston Exley and Ray Dieterling's Girl Friday on her own merit.
- Evil Is Cool: The film version of Dudley Smith. He's a badass old man and a Magnificent Bastard combined.
- Harsher in Hindsight: Vincennes' scenes with Matt Reynolds are pretty hard to take after it was revealed that Kevin Spacey had a long history of molesting young male actors. Even worse is that a large part of the film which Jack Vincennes is involved in is a subplot about Ron Rifkin's character molesting young actors.
- Hilarious in Hindsight: In the book, Bud White befriends a young prostitute who is murdered soon afterward. Quite a tragic and moving event, except that her name is Kathy Janeway. Needless to say, the character doesn't appear in the movie.
- Jerkass Woobie: Bud White.
- Magnificent Bastard: The film version of Captain Dudley Smith is is a charming, witty corrupt police officer who tries to get control of all criminal activity in Los Angeles after the fall of gangster Mickey Cohen leaves a power vacuum behind. He chases away or kills off all criminal opposition in the city. When officer Dick Stensland and private bodyguard Buzz Meeks try to get more out of a major heroin deal they made with him he kills both of them, one in a diner massacre that leaves a dozen innocent people dead. He frames a trio of rapist criminals for the massacre, and orders them killed during the arrest by his associates to make sure they won't talk. After manipulating the entire department, he later begins eliminating loose ends and even sets up his young rival Edmund Exley sleeping with his muscle Bud White's girlfriend to trick Bud into killing Edmund to get rid of them both. Coming within an inch of victory, Dudley embodies both the charm and corruption that a police badge can conceal.
- One True Threesome: Bud/Lynn/Ed.
- Rooting for the Empire: The film version of Dudley Smith. He is evil, but not as depraved as his book counterpart. In fact, most of his victims in his film counterpart are criminals, corrupt cops or other scumbags. Besides this, he doesn't have any really disgusting crimes like rape or infanticide. Evil Is Cool aside, Dudley Smith framing a trio of rapist criminals for the massacre, ordering them killed during the arrest by his associates to make sure they won't talk is an act one can hardly call evil.
- The Woobie:
- Even though most of the crap he goes through is his own damned fault, Jack Vincennes is so completely, utterly screwed up that he goes from despicable, all the way through pathetic and comes out being pitiful.
- Matt Reynolds. Unless you think smoking a little pot should result in being set up for the "Movie Premiere Pot Bust," having your career and life destroyed, then being exploited by the very guys who did it to you, which then results in your murder.
YMMV / L.A. Confidential