Director: William Friedkin
Starring: William Petersen, Willem Dafoe & Dean Stockwell
Synopsis: A fearless Secret Service agent will stop at nothing to bring down the counterfeiter who killed his partner.
Rating: 18 Duration: 116 minutes Release date: 21 November (UK)
It’s been over three decades since To Live and Die in L.A. was released and director William Friedkin’s stylish crime-thriller has lost none of its impact or visceral edge as we take a journey through 1980’s Los Angeles and its seedy underbelly.
William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A. is largely an unconventional film, but kicks off in a pretty conventional way. William Petersen’s Secret Service agent Richard Chance and his partner Jim Hart (Michael Greene) stop an Islamic terrorist threatening to take down a high-rise building. Hart is not long until retirement while Chance operates with a devil-may-care attitude and would rather live for today than think about tomorrow. Despite being three days from retiring, Hart is investigating a counterfeiting ring without back-up. Caught, Hart is confronted by Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe) and his bodyguard who take no time in offing Hart in brutal fashion. Discovering what has happened, Chance gets a new partner in John Vukovich (John Pankow) and vows to him that Masters will be brought down by any means necessary.
There’s a very poignant sense of realism that sails throughout To Live and Die in L.A., and much like Friedkin’s other two stand out efforts; The Exorcist and The French Connection, there is a rich vigour that makes the film feel electric and truly never feels like the pace is letting up. The sense of realism is impacted both by the choices Friedkin has made in his filming technique and also in his efforts to tell a compelling story. Killing off Chance’s partner early was a brave decision and makes more sense when one considers the eventual outcome of the film. It’s interesting when finding out that Friedkin would film the actors letting them believe they were rehearsing, only to then call he’d got his take. This furthers the level of realism and lends a guerilla style to the film.
Friedkin’s visual style is a joy to behold. His mix of colours in the opening credits is as 80’s as you are likely to get, but it comes across in a way that feels fresh and dare I say, unique. Friedkin also chooses to show us a side of L.A. that we don’t normally see. Whereas the City of Angels is usually portrayed as glamorous and vibrant, here we see the darker side of the streets through its criminal activity and the government agents trying to put a stop to it. Several scenes evoke imagery from the likes of Robocop and L.A. Takedown, which later became Heat, and show a grittier version we don’t normally see.
What we get is a different take on L.A. as well a different look at both side of the law. Chance is a renegade whose badge is an excuse to impose his law, using it for anything from getting information to sex from his informant. Vukovich on the other hand is a by-the-book agent trying to keep his partner in line. What’s interesting is seeing their relationship develop and watching Vukovich take on more than a few of his partners traits. It’s an interesting perspective and the relationship can deteriorate as much as they bond. And as used as we are to seeing Willem Dafoe playing a villain, his turn here is remarkably deep and brings into further question the methods with which the Secret Service will use to try to take him down.
31 years on and To Live and Die in L.A. still resonates and paints a bleak yet vivid picture. Working on so many levels and showcasing various aspects of character and film-making, To Live and Die in L.A. is an exceptional film even today and will be just as important in another 31 years.
- Audio commentary by director and co-writer William Friedkin
- Counterfeit World: The Making of To Live and Die in L.A.
- Alternative ending
- Deleted scene
- Stills gallery
As ever Arrow Video have restored another film to near perfection. Visually the film has never looked better and now looks more rich in colour than previous releases. The sound, while generally good, does fluctuate at times and can be uneven from one scene to the next.
Fans of extras will be overjoyed with what is on offer here, through a variety of behind the scenes looks and commentaries that shine a light on the processes that went into making the film, while giving fans more to chew on than regular DVD and Blu-ray releases.