Too eighties for its own good, To Live and Die in L.A. is a solid cop thriller with a couple of great elements. After the somewhat cheesy intro, we get one hell of a scene. A scene that meticulously guides us through the money counterfeiting process. And if it seems too real, that’s because it freaking is! They hired a real counterfeiter who made real “funny money”. Money that was so good that the director William Friedkin was able to pass it on in restaurants. Much like when people saw the safe cracking process in Rififi, they also tried to make fake money by imitating the process seen in this movie.
This is the type of movie To Live and Die in L.A. is. You will get a bit of disjointed storytelling and then a mind-blowing chase scene. You will get a bit of trite dialogue and bam, a huge plot twist. All of this is accompanied by a soundtrack that I think has aged quite terribly. It just breaks the tension and mood of the movie too easily. And the braggadocious eighties fashion also doesn’t help with this. However, I urge you to just get to the twenty-minute mark. I think that from then on, you will be able to judge if this is a movie for you. It is quite odd, to be completely honest. And surprisingly artsy for a police thriller with such fucked up developments.
Agent Richard Chance is an adrenaline junkie who will stop at nothing to get his man. This time, his man is a vicious and incredibly intelligent money counterfeiter Rick Masters. Authorities have been trying to catch him for some time now, but he always manages to get away. Chance is hoping this time will be different as he starts thinking of a plan of how to get close to Masters.
One of the things that made To Live and Die in L.A. such a good movie is character development. Rick Masters is such a memorable villain that it’s worth seeing the movie for him alone. Played masterfully by Willem Dafoe, he’s smart, ruthless, and mysterious. Driven by forces we cannot see and doing things differently from other run-of-the-mill criminals. Opposite of him, we have death-wish Chance, willing to do anything to get his man. I still haven’t decided whether William Petersen was better in this movie or Manhunter. And the supporting cast is also strong, including the likes of John Turturro and Dean Stockwell. And none of them is a good or bad guy.
Finally, you should know that this is a fast-paced movie. The scenes that are a bit slower are only building up momentum for the inevitable escalation that’s about to follow. Set in the criminal underworld, To Live and To Die in L.A. feels authentic and raw. It counters the straight-laced police thrillers of the eighties that were more feel-good movies. I wish it was a bit darker all throughout but what can you do. If you want to continue in the same direction, I recommend you check out Friedkin’s masterpiece Sorcerer. Although it’s not a police movie, it’s definitely his best movie and I do know how good The Exorcist or The French Connection are. However, if you want to follow another investigation check out Cruising starring Al Pacino.
Director: William Friedkin
Writers: Gerald Petievich, William Friedkin
Cast: William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, Debra Feuer, John Turturro, Darlanne Fluegel, Steve James
Fun Facts: The car chase sequence took six weeks to shoot.