Film Flashback – To Live and Die in LA

To Live and Die in LA

The first time I actually watched To Live and Die in LA (1985) was over ten years after its release. I was working at HMV at the time and we’d managed to get a hold of some deleted VHS copies of it. Only 8 of them and I think 5 immediately got snagged by staff members.

“You have to watch this, MG” said one “it’s such a *you* movie”. By that I think he means “one of those stylish flicks, made in the 80s with a male lead of dubious moral character, chaotic good if you will, that could never possibly get made in the same form today”

To Live and Die in LA focuses on the character of Chance, played by William Peterson. When his partner, just days before retirement goes out on his own and gets killed by counterfeiter Masters (Willem Defoe), Chance stops at nothing to bring Masters to justice.

Aided by his new, wet behind the ears partner Vukocvich (John Pankow), Chance pursues Masters relentlessly, breaking the law and accidentally causing the death of an FBI agent.

The film is full of shimmering 80s visuals, and with a soundtrack by Wang Chung could be hailed as style over substance. However the gritty script and excellent performances from the leads give it depth and texture. Peterson went on to do Manhunter the following year and excels with these slightly dark, slightly warped characters. (Used to great effect in CSI, when the rest of the world finally caught up with how fantastic he is. Shame on you, the rest of the world, why did you take so long?)

But I think what makes me love To Live and Die in LA most of all is the ending. Which I won’t give away. The studio didn’t like it and made Friedkin shoot a second one. Which he did and then promptly discarded. On first viewing the ending shocked and surprised me, but it is intensely satisfying because it refuses to pander to our expectations.

William Friedkin’s direction is masterful on this pic. The film actually has a running time of nearly two hours, but it never feels long or overwrought. Dafoe is more a cypher than anything, but the story uses his villainy to plot Chase’s obsession.

It is currently stupidly cheap over at Amazon, and I heartily recommend it. If you liked films like Cop or Tough Guys Don’t Dance and haven’t seen To Live and Die in LA, then bad film fan, bad, bad bad…


~ by moviegrrlreviews on June 15, 2010.

One Response to “Film Flashback – To Live and Die in LA”

  1. Haha.


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