Tuesday, January 15, 2019

To Live And Die In LA (1985)

"I wonder why in L.A., to live and die in L.A." -Wang Chung-
William Friedkin's foray into crime drama returned successfully for To Live And Die In LA (1985). This time Los Angles was his location of choice on the West Coast as much as Friedkin enjoyed employing New York for his detectives' backdrop on the East Coast in The French Connection (1971).

There are aspects of this 1980s film as dated as his 1970s classic. These time capsules make for an immersive experience though. There is something inherently seedy and near Miami Vice cheesy good about this film that is gripping and artistic and captures a moment in our culture beautifully in moving pictures. The pursuit by two agents of a counterfeiter is set against a uniquely 1980s landscape.

Part of that success was employing the soundtrack work of 1980s band Wang Chung led by Jack Hues and Nick Feldman. Apart from that great theme song to the film, the electro beats though are not particularly inspired, but yet somehow echo and capture the period artfully so in its own pulsing anyway. As a teenager who didn't love Wang Chung for a hot minute with Everbody Have Fun Tonight, Let's Go and Hypnotize Me. Say nothing of the wonderful Dance Hall Days. These were great little pop songs. As a fan of the band once upon a time, as much as they fit hand in glove with the 80s LA chic, this writer sometimes couldn't help but imagine a more sophisticated score for some of these effectively staged sequences. Beverly Hills Cop (1984) employed its 80s pop music score to good effect but To Live And Die In LA is arguably a better picture. It may have been enhanced by a more sophisticated soundtrack.

Things to love about the film apart from its wonderful location shooting include William Petersen in a star making role alongside Manhunter (1986) a year later.

Likewise Friedkin employed actor Willem Dafoe furthering his star power along with his role in Platoon (1986) a year later. Prior to this Dafoe appeared in Walter Hill's Streets of Fire (1984). In this film he's just as weird and creepy and vicious as good villains go.

John Turturro too was establishing himself in his fifth big film appearance behind Madonna's Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) the same year.

Robert Downey Sr. is included here as well, the father of Iron Man himself. Additionally, John Pankow (Mad About You) and Jane Levees (Frasier) had big TV success in their futures.

Friedkin really picked some, then, rather unknown talent for the film.

The neon hued 80s vibe genuinely permeates the vibe of the picture throughout stamping it with its own unique identity and sound and is honest about its depiction of 80s era LA.

One thrilling car chase sequence in the film mirrors and perhaps rivals or bests the one created for Friedkin's own The French Connection, but it is undeniably Friedkin as the auteur who would not settle for anything that didn't raise the stakes or push the boundaries of his filmmaking. He reinvents himself as much as the magnificent Howard Hawks and others did before him.

Finally the results of that sequence and consequently the era of the crime drama and what transpires made me realize the beauty of actually committing a crime in the day. No cell phones. No cameras. No nothing. Proof was essentially absent of all the events. In this respect To Live And Die In LA truly captures a by gone era. Perhaps Friedkin's effort to truly cement that idea was with the Wang Chung soundtrack.

To Live And Die In LA is an impactful drama with some truly uncompromising and brutally graphic moments even Darth "I am your father" Vader-like shocking (almost) that truly underscore the danger of the work in criminal justice for these agents. The film also cleverly portrays the slippery descent into the underbelly's darkness for those invested in that life. Not unlike The French Connection the films depict how men with a singular focus can sometimes teeter on the brink between right and wrong. Crossing that line and sliding into the abyss is a real possibility for those in pursuit of evil. Gene Hackman walked it once upon a time and William Petersen does here. Friedkin uses the camera to observe how far men will go.

To Live And Die In LA still holds up and is an entirely memorable crime thriller when so many are often not. This is based largely on the Friedkin connection and his vision as well as its authentic source material. The film was based on a book by US Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich who co-writes with Friedkin here. This is undeniably a solid entry within the genre.

A more recent Shout Factory release of the film is available and we may revisit this title with that issue.

To Live And Die In LA. Director: William Friedkin. Writer: William Friedkin/ Gerald Petievich.

Grade: B+/A-


  1. Excellent review! This is a one-of-a-kind thriller and this is due in large part to Friedkin and what he brought to the genre. It starts off serving up all the cliches in the book - the partner about to retire, the maverick hero, the nasty villain, etc. - and then proceeds to turn them all on their head over the course of the film!

    So great to see you finally having a blog dedicated to film reviews. I look forward to diving into your back catalogue of reviews!

  2. Thanks for the added commentary regarding the film. You're absolutely right J.D.. It was Friedkin's passion and approach that elevates these crime dramas. His attention to the gritty details that makes them so special. Thanks a lot my friend.


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