On September 26, 2016, writer and director Curtis Hanson passed away at the age of 71 in Los Angeles, California. With a career spanning over 40 years, he has produced some of cinema's most exciting films from the James Ellroy adaptation L.A. Confidential to hip-hop drama 8 Mile and the romantic comedy In Her Shoes. Throughout his career, he did a fine job of mixing comedies and dramas that often explored harrowing figures going through complicated situations. His films were always exciting yet challenging, proving the power of what cinema could be without defining himself to one style. His massive appeal continues to be felt as his films continue to inspire and be discovered by new audiences. He definitely left a great mark on what film truly can be.
Hanson was born on Reno, Nevada on March 24, 1945. Despite this, he grew up in Los Angeles where his parents were a teacher and a real estate agent. He was a high school dropout who did so when he found that he could get work as a freelance photographer for Cinema Magazine. In 1970 and the age of 25, he had written his first screenplay for The Dunwich Horror, which was adapted from an H.P. Lovecraft short story. His directorial debut came in 1973 with Sweet Kill, which he also wrote and produced. His career would only continue to grow as time went on, eventually having success with dramas and comedies, including the 1992 film The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, which was one of his biggest box office successes.
In 1997, he directed L.A. Confidential, which he co-wrote with Brian Helgeland. Based on the novel by James Ellroy, it followed a theme familiar to Hanson's previous films. It followed police officers going into the line of fire to solve a case. With a cast that included Kim Basinger, Kevin Spacey, and Russell Crowe, the film was a tribute to the film noir that Ellroy's other work inspired, specifically that of director Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place. With a witty script and great direction, the film became Hanson's definitive film amid controversy of Ellroy's work being tough to adapt. The film would earn nine Academy Award nominations. This included a win for Best Adapted Screenplay by Helgeland and Hanson, who accepted the award with humor:
Hanson's work only continued to get more high profile in the years following L.A. Confidential. Both Wonder Boys and 8 Mile produced music that won the Best Original Song category, the latter of which featured Eminem's "Lose Yourself" and was the first hip-hop song to ever win the award. His work continued to be more eclectic with romantic comedies In Her Shoes and Lucky You, as well as financial documentary Too Big to Fail - of which he did for HBO. He directed his final film in 2012 with Chasing Mavericks. However, his growing Alzheimer's disease caused him to be unable to finish the project, turning over the final days to Michael Apted.
Even if he is only best remembered for the last 20 years of his career, his work remains an impressive achievement to craft. With a desire to make cinema that stimulated, he helped to make stories of complicated individuals come to life in exciting ways. He may be remembered best for L.A. Confidential, but his entire career was full of gems that perfectly reflect his range and capabilities. He was a director who always liked challenging himself, and the results spoke for themselves. There are few directors as adept in the way that Hanson was, and his legacy will only continue to grow as time goes on.