To Live and Die in L.A. Reviews

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Jack Hawkins
Super Reviewer
½ July 27, 2009
'To Live and Die in L.A.' is ultimately something of a snorefest; watch this with even a grain of lethargy and you'll be lost. And that's a shame, because there is much artistic merit to be found in the film. The killer Wang Chung soundtrack compliments stylish sequences throughout, and is especially effective when capturing the Los Angeles landscape. The opening montage is very striking both visually and aurally; the sequence showing Master's counterfeiting procedure is also a pleasure to watch. Sadly though, the first twenty minutes and the closing credits of the film are the most interesting and engaging. Even its stylistic flair becomes tired, Wang Chung being overused and placed in sequences that just don't require it. To Live and Die in L.A. could've been far tauter; it rouses you from your catatonic state only a few times with its surprising gore and of course that famous lengthy car chase.

The premise is simply Richard Chance's (William L. Peterson) relentless pursuit of a murderous counterfeiter named Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe) who has killed Chance's partner and 'best friend for seven years'. Chance, his safety hindered in the haze of his own hubris, is prepared to do whatever it takes to put an end to masters, even if it means breaking the law he enforces. Peterson's anti-hero isn't without his clichés: when presented with new partner John Vukovich (John Pankow), the film indulges in the common 'You know I work alone' cliché.

In its entirety, To Live and Die in L.A. is a superficial, viewer-unfriendly production that just doesn't engage it's audience; the characters are flat and the plot is bloated and hard to follow. Its aesthetic redeeming features are seldom found over the course of 1hr 56 minutes, and even if there were more, it wouldn't save this film from its unsubstantiated characters and narrative.
Super Reviewer
½ October 4, 2011
I don't throw around the term neo-noir lightly, but this film has the body of your average 80's cop thriller, with the heart and soul of a noir. William Petersen is good here as the hard-boiled and morally ambivalent detective Chance. As for Friedkin, whether he wants to admit it or not, is not a God. But he does know how to craft a compelling film. Although this is not as captivating as the French Connection or the Exorcist, the action scenes are still very impressive and shot with vigor. He takes chances that really elevate the material in a lot of ways.
The story is a bit messy and the film is steeped in the 80's aesthetic which unfortunately does not age well. However, it is much better than you would expect of your average thriller.
Super Reviewer
½ March 14, 2010
An exploding thriller very well-directed by William Friedkin, with great performances, many awesome action scenes - especially an exhilarating car chase one - and a morally thought-provoking story that culminates in a fantastic, shocking ending.
Super Reviewer
August 31, 2008
Some Minor Spoilers Here***********************************************************
There are three things going for this crime thriller: it's a great in the sense of being a believable and well-constructed story; for the time, it has ordinary and not top box-office stars, a cast that produce star quality performances; and, of course, it's directed by William Friedkin, a director well known for constructing cinema designed to shock.

The narrative which I understand only barely resembles the story line of the novel is a piece of nasty work in the form of the moral ambiguity that constantly arises when 'good' guys exceed their authority to do whatever it takes to bag the 'bad' guys. Friedkin had already explored that in The French Connection (1971) but, at that time, he used a big star draw card with Gene Hackman, who, as Popeye Doyle, trod on a lot of toes and faces to do the job and still managed to garner sympathy from this viewer, and many others, despite his excesses.

That is not the case for Richard Chance (William Petersen), the T-man who'll do anything to get Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe) for murdering another T-man, Jim Hart (Michael Greene), Chance's partner in crime, so to speak. You see (literally and visually) the trouble with Chance, is that he always wants to take a chance on bridging the gap between doing what's right and proper, and doing what he wants to get the job done; ethically, he's a true pragmatist totally vacuous when it comes to core principles. And that's in direct contrast to Rick Masters, who's loyal to all those around him, until they double-cross him; only then do those real 'bad' guys pay the price for their double trouble.

From the narrative perspective, Chance and Masters are mirror images, of course, and each shares the same first name (although, for Masters, Rick is a nick-name), thus providing a duality of principle and purpose in the totally corrupt society as presented by Freidkin; and all of which is summed up with Bob Grimes' (an urbane and consummate Dean Stockwell) pithy rebuttal to Bianca (Debra Feuer) when she asked him why he was lawyer for Masters: "It's just business". Note the great grimy name for Stockwell's totally debased character...

So, the great irony for this story is that Chance works within the law as a T-man, but operates as much as he can outside of it to further his personal interests; while Masters works outside of the law as an anti-T-man (he counterfeits money), while operating within it as much as he can using corrupt lawyers and the legal system to further his own interests. So, who is the real bad guy? Who deserves more sympathy from society?

The ending is fitting, as it should be: out with the old, in with the new. Society continues to function, in all its grime and glory, such as it is; but it is also Friedkin's Disconnection on a grand scale for telling the truth about how it all works. Little wonder: most people can't handle the truth, as somebody said, because there's a little bit of Chance and Masters in all of us. And, we all know what happened to Friedkin's career as a director after this one was released.

There are, however, few thrillers, in the last twenty-five years, better than this one for irony, suspense and action. Add to that the sexually pulsating sound track from Wang Chung and the on-site location shooting around Los Angeles and you have a very believable story in a city where angels always fear to tread.

Is it just co-incidental that many of the actors went on to greater recognition. For William Petersen, this was his second movie; for Willem Dafoe, it was his sixth; for John Pankow, his third; Turturro, his fifth and so on.

See it for sure, if you haven't already; see it again for what you missed first time around. Highly recommended
Super Reviewer
½ May 18, 2008
Great, very 80's action-drama about two inept Secret Service agents on the trail of the murdering counterfeiter Defoe. Dated, but still a great film with Petersen's acting leading the way. Points added for the hero inexplicably dying before the end, but then again points dropped for having to see Petersen's junk. Thank God he's on Tv and we won't have to go through THAT again, eh?
Super Reviewer
½ September 22, 2006
An stlyish, edgy and brilliant crime thriller. brutal, pulse pounding and exhilerating. It delivers a sensational car chase. William Peterson is memerising. Willem Dafoe is brilliant. Director, William Friedkin's best film since The French connection.
Super Reviewer
March 28, 2007
Hollywood Saloon approved...

One of the best cop movies of all time
Super Reviewer
July 30, 2007
Before CSI, he didn't take no shit from nobody.
Super Reviewer
June 9, 2006
Eric 'Rick' Masters: How you making it?
Carl Cody: Like every other swinging dick in this place makes it. Day by motherfucking day.

Director William Friedkin follows up the French Connection with another kick ass crime thriller that features another one of the best kick ass car chases. Propelled by an 80s techno soundtrack from Wang Chung (not kidding), this movie gives us a good story involving Secret Service agents and counterfeiters. Between directors Friedkin and Mann, you can always count on an involving cop drama.
Super Reviewer
October 23, 2011
William Friedkin is a fantastic director. He sets up the entire scene like a painter, adding detail to every single inch. You can always find something new in each shot. It's artistry like that that mesmerizes the hell out of me.

I was also deeply impressed by the pure complexity of To Live and Die in L.A. At the beginning of the famous car chase scene, there's this shot that rises from Chance's car, up along the highway, meets up with the red car in pursuit of Chance, then moves back to Chance's car. And all of this is going on while the cars are going at top speeds.

Maybe I'm just biased towards crime films. Crime is a genre that typically impresses me. The characters are always easy to get involved with, the storyline is typically riveting, and all of the technical aspects are usually right on par with everything else.

William Friedkin is a director that has mastered this genre, and I've only seen two of his films. I think I might add him to my "Favorite Directors" list.
Super Reviewer
June 30, 2008
Cool smooth '80's genre action flick. I saw this in the 80's...but cannot believe how MUCH I forgot!!!...A must see epic with an unforgettable gritty car chase scene.The counterfeit making scene was incredible. See is intense!
Super Reviewer
April 25, 2008
If you can get passed the fact that this is one of the most 80s films you will ever see (take the annoying musical score for example) it's a dark, gritty, entertaining crime thriller. The 80s factor, while certainly distracting, is more of a time capsul that anything else about L.A. in the shitshow that was the 1980s. What I liked was the way that no one is clean in this movie, even our hero breaks the law but with big consequences. And this movie has one of the greatest car chases ever, The fact that Friedkin filmed it last in case any of the actors died is a testement to it's brilliance. There are no special effects just stuntmen and sometimes the actual actors drving on backroads and on the wrong way of an L.A. freeway. The chase isn't completely ridiculous either, it's almost realistic in a way which adds to the danger. Oh and may I add that Willem Dafoe is such a creeper in this movie, but then again when isn't he? I should also praise the ending which is brave enough to have nothing turn out well for anyone. This is certainly an underated crime thriller that deserves more attention.
Super Reviewer
March 21, 2013
Explicit business depth on both sides of the crime drama about counterfeiting. How original. The chase sequence on the wrong side of the freeway has thrills too.
Super Reviewer
June 19, 2006
Kinda dated. I'll watch Dafoe in anything, but this one is pretty average.
Super Reviewer
November 29, 2011
William Friedkin is a fantastic director. He can surely make a bad film, but when he's working with a good script, magic can be made. "To Live and Die in L.A." is nothing remarkable in turns of plot development, although there are a fair share of twists and turns, but the ferocity with which it is directed is astounding. Such an involving crime film.
Super Reviewer
½ October 28, 2011
Friedkin gives us one of the best Crime Dramas I have ever seen! This is such a great movie and I cannot believe it has taken me this long to see it!
Super Reviewer
April 6, 2009
Yeah, yeah - the car chase scenes were good. But didn't you notice that the rest of the film was, like, terrible?
Super Reviewer
½ August 9, 2008
Decent 80's thriller from director Robert Friedkin (The French Connection & The Exorcist). With a strong storyline and a good cast, it's worth a look.
Super Reviewer
June 22, 2008
The fact that this film was made in the 80s isn't one of the more subtle elements of the film. But it's also not very subtle in complete awesomeness either.
Who could deny William Peterson AND Willem Dafoe. Plus and incredible car chase sequence that you can feel coming on and really effing delivers the goods.
Super Reviewer
May 20, 2007
Even better on a repeat viewing. The story is simple but sound, the acting is all good, and the direction is great. As far as Friedkin's films go, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it is better that Franch Connection.
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