To Live And Die In L.A. (1985)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/7/12
Director: William Friedkin
Cast: William Petersen, John Pankow, Willem Dafoe

I remember when this movie came out thinking "why would I want to see a film that Wang Chung did the music for?" I suppose that was a valid argument for my seventeen year old self, but rather silly in hindsight. Even so, the bizarre pop soundtrack feels awkwardly out of place in this tense and gritty crime thriller, and dates the film even more than the fashions do. It's still one hell of a ride, though.

Richard Chance (a very young William Petersen) is an asshole federal agent, living on the edge with one foot in the grave. Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe) is a counterfeit money artist with a taste for violence and kinky sex, and Chance will stop at nothing to bring him down. Not unexpectedly, the collision of these two forces will not end happily. The action is raw and intense, and the climactic car chase against oncoming traffic is exciting and very satisfying. The film also features some great foot chases, including this fabulous gem of dialog:

"Why are you chasing me?"
"Why are you running away?"
"Because you're chasing me!"

The film looks great and the performances are excellent. Everybody's hands are dirty and everyone is rather unpleasant, which creates some wonderful character dynamics. Pat Johnson's fight choreography is rough and brutal - not particularly flashy, but very realistic looking. L.A. looks appropriately seedy and Friedkin brings a real sense of honesty and authenticity to the picture. Friedkin also sticks to his guns by leaving in a wonderfully shocking and downbeat ending that the studios wanted him to reshoot. My only complaint with the film is that a lot of the handheld shots are maddening to watch and should have been locked down. A good time if you're looking for a tense crime drama with some nice stunt work.