TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.
Review by Gordon Justesen
William L. Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, Debra Feuer, John Turturro,
Darlene Fluegel, Dean Stockwell
Director: William Friedkin
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Stereo, Spanish Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 116 Minutes
Release Date: December 2, 2003
me tell you something, amigo. Iím gonna bag Masters and I donít give a s**t
how I do it.Ē
There were probably
three definitive hardcore action thrillers to come out of the 80s. These
particular films, each directed by top-notch filmmakers, displayed a profound
indulgence for their notoriously violent content as opposed to good taste. The
purpose for creating movies like them, I think, was to challenge the perception
of an audience, even though that may have been unclear upon their initial
The first one, of
course, would be De Palma's gangster epic Scarface
from 1983, a film which is more popular today than ever before. Secondly,
there's 1987's Robocop, where director
Paul Verhoven did nothing less than push the envelope of cinematic violence, so
much to the point that an R rating may have seemed tame. Lastly, there's
director William Friedkin's 1985 gem, To Live and Die in L.A., which has barred a cult status ever since
receiving rave reviews nearly twenty years ago.
Friedkin's film has a lot less action compared to the other two films, but earns
it spot in the list due to a few up-close execution scenes. I won't go into
specific detail of what is done to numerous people, except to say that these
moments in the movie perfectly illustrate what one could get away with back in
1985, and what would not be allowed on screen in 2003. At its core, To Live and Die in L.A. can best be described as a much more
hardcore episode of Miami Vice (the
music score happens to be by none other than 80s pop sensation Wang Chung),
mixed in with a lot more explicit content, of course to make it properly fit for
the big screen.
involves a nationwide manhunt for a deadly criminal who heads up a large
counterfeit ring. It becomes something of a personal endeavor for Secret Service
agent Richard Chance (William L. Petersen) when his about to be retired partner
is brutally gunned down while working on a tip leading to master counterfeiter
Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe). Chance vows to hunt Masters down at any cost, even
if it means bending or breaking any rules.
The setup alone is
worthy of this tense thriller, but what makes To Live and Die in L.A. so distinctive is the dark nature of the
characters, and I mean every single one of them. As it turns out, it's kind of
hard to separate the good guys from the bad. Although Masters is clearly the one
to root against, it turns out that Chance, who in most cases would qualify as an
easy protagonist, isn't much sympathetic by comparison. Although he's doing what
he's doing as part of avenging the death of his partner and friend, Chance
happens to be hotheaded and way-over-the-edge in his pursuit, not caring much of
how much of a mess he leaves in the process.
The key sequence in
To Live and Die in L.A. is a
monumental knockout of a car chase, which is just as excitingly shot and
choreographed as the classic chase scene in Friedkin's The
French Connection. In the aftermath of an undercover bust gone bad, where
which Chance is attempting to execute a robbery as a way of coming up with front
money to use in the undercover bust of Masters, he and his new rookie partner,
Vukovich (John Pankow) find themselves being pursued by multiple cars.
Watching this chase
scene, you'll probably be asking yourself, "How in the world did this ever
get filmed?" especially when Chance makes a quick decision to cut over to
the wrong way section of the freeway, causing all sorts of mayhem to occur in
the process. What ranks this among some of the most astounding chase scenes ever
shot is that it doesn't feel artificial. All of the cars look as if they're very
much in danger of crashing into one another. I have no idea how Friedkin managed
to shoot and choreograph this sequence, but I'm just happy everyone made it out
of there alive.
and very complex, To Live and Die in L.A.
is among the most riveting hard edge thrillers to come from the 80s, as well as
director Friedkin, and it features two stellar performances from Petersen, and
especially a very young-looking Dafoe.
I've seen this
movie on video countless times (until now, I never really had any other
alternative), so it goes without saying that being able to view this movie in
the DVD format was most pleasant. Like most of all Friedkin films, this one is
very atmospheric in its setting. The cinematography by Robby Muller is delivered
and handled very well by the folks at MGM. The presentation prevails more in
daytime shots rather than dark or night shots. The look of the chase sequence is
The remastered 5.1
track certainly provides the best sound quality this film's ever gotten. The
music by Wang Chung has never sounded so better, and the range goes wide at
individual moments, especially the heart-stopping freeway chase, for which if
you've never seen this movie--I envy you on behalf of being able to discover
this scene in this format. Unquestionably one of the better sound mixes for any
80s release of this year.
First off, I just
would like to express to all of you something. Fans of this movie, including
myself, have waited an excruciating long time for someone to finally get this
one out to DVD. For that, I wish to applaud the good people of MGM for doing it,
for it was well worth the wait.
MGM has delivered
their Special Edition brilliance for this long awaited release, which features
some explosive extras. First off is a commentary by the always-insightful
William Friedkin, who always has something intriguing to reflect on behalf of
his work. Also included is a new documentary, "Counterfeit World: Making To
Live and Die in L.A.", a deleted scene and alternate ending featurette,
photo galleries, and a trailer gallery.