Although heralded by critics and audiences alike for making the best possession film ever made William Friedkin is also famous for directing a whole load of other movies including one of the best action films of the 70’s The French Connection.
Featuring hard nut cops, crazy car chases, epic action as well as Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider on top form it became a classic of the genre. It’s not surprising to find that in 1985 Friedkin went back to make an equally stylish cop thriller with just as much violence and mayhem as his 70’s masterpiece called To Live and Die in L.A.
Based on the novel by former U.S. Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich who also had his work adapted into Hollywood action flicks The Sentinel and Boiling Point the script penned by Petievich and Friedkin revolves around secret service agent Richard Chance (CSI’s William Petersen) a reckless hot head willing to do anything to get the job done.
When his partner is brutally murdered looking into a lead on a counterfeiting ring Chance takes it on himself to find the mastermind behind the operation and his friends murder teaming up with a new partner John Vukovich (John Pankow) even though he would rather go it alone.
Tracking down any clues they can the pair end up pinning the funny money on the evil Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe) a smooth talking mastermind who copies cash as well as he paints modern art running his illegal operation without leaving a trace of evidence behind.
Chance is convinced he can catch Masters in the act setting up several stings to bait him into getting his hands dirty however as the rampaging rouge agent goes up against the ruthless criminal everyone in between gets caught up as collateral damage with both men desperate to win against the other whatever the cost.
Although the script may be drenched in 80’s action clichés including Masters partner not only saying “I’m getting too old for this shit” but also then dying 2 days before retirement To Live and Die in L.A. unexpectedly contains a greater deal of depth than it may first appear dealing as it does with the seductive and corruptive nature of crime even over those on the right side of the law.
Impulsive and addicted to adrenalin William Petersen’s pumped up agent out for vengeance is a million miles away from the cool calm and empathically methodical Will Graham in Michael Mann’s 80’s masterpiece Manhunter, yet he is just as troubled and the film details his decline into darkness as he bends and breaks more rules to take down his foe.
As the target of the secret service agents rage Willem Dafoe is as brilliant as ever exuding menace and malice in every scene as he crushes his opposition and makes moves to get the most real cash for his fool proof fake money. There is also an superb supporting cast made up of John Turturro as one of Dafoe’s flunkies, Quantum Leap’s Dean Stockwell as his high class lawyer and Debra Feuer as his lover and accomplice.
Interestingly the most tragic characters of all are on the sidelines including John Pankow as Chances partner pushed to breaking point and Darlanne Fluegel who plays Ruth, Chance’s informant who he holds under his power using and abusing her both for information and sex as he sees fit in their twisted co-dependent relationship.
Over boiling with testosterone To Live and Die in L.A. contains some excellent action sequences including an unbelievable nail biting highway chase that seems to go on forever and some ultra-violent shoot outs all shot perfectly by Friedkin who proves he is a master of his craft whatever the genre.