William (The Exorcist) Friedkin’s glossy, kinetic and deeply cynical 80s thriller To Live & Die in LA holds up remarkably well. While it was well-received by critics, it didn’t score financially and may have done some damage to Friedkin’s reputation. Today, it’s rightfully acknowledged as a near-masterpiece. The fashions and music and attitudes on display might have been interpreted at the time as opportunistic stabs at stylization, and yet the film is nevertheless overpowering and otherworldly rather than quaint or kitschy.
Sharing some of the sheen of the work of Michael Mann (who directed LA star William Petersen in Manhunter a year later) and slick cop shows such as Mann’s own Miami Vice, To Live & Die in L.A. is certainly worth revisiting.
Petersen’s obsessive/reckless cop Richard Chance is on the trail of master counterfeiter Eric ‘Rick’ Masters (Willem Dafoe) – with much carnage on the way, Chance seemingly oblivious to the collateral destruction he leaves in his wake.
Petersen is a vain actor, always seemingly on the verge of checking himself out in the nearest mirror, but he works well in this context (as he did as the Governor in The Contender) as does Dafoe and a great supporting cast that includes John Turturro, Dean Stockwell, Gary Cole, John Pankow, a pre-Frasier Jane Leeves and Robert Downey Sr.
Don’t laugh, but the soundtrack by Wang Chung (of all people) is excellent…
If you like Heat (1995) you should dig To Live & Die in LA.