REVIEW: To Live And Die In L.A (1985, William Friedkin / Dafoe, Petersen)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

  • Original Release: 1985
  • Director: William Friedkin
  • Starring: Willem Dafoe, William Petersen, John Pankow, John Torturro
  • In Addition with: Darlanne Fluegel, Debra Feuer
  • Running Time: 116min
  • Format: Blu-Ray
  • Budget: ?
  • Gross: $17,307,019 (USA)
  • Buy To Live And Die In L.A as Blu-Ray disc from

I just watched this movie last night on Blu-Ray. This rather raw action/thriller was directed by William Friedkin, who previously also directed French Connection (1971). It's a story about team of two secret service agents who are about to take down a criminal, Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe), who's doing business by pressing false money. Richard Chance (Petersen) is younger reckless agent, who's partner, elder agent Jim Hart (Michael Greene), is about to get his retirement in three days, when he gets a lead about money laundry taking place in old warehouse. The elder agent Hart then wants to go investigate the warehouse, too eager to call any backup. Three days to his retirement, and while investigating the place he is ambushed and things go horribly wrong. The agent gets shot in the head with shotgun. Now the Chance is out to avenge his partners death.

This movie truly screams for 80's. It's one of those regular action-based cop-movies, yet it's not quite generic. What differentiates this from many others is the fact that it's quite gruesome cop-movie. As you can see, this isn't quite your comedic Lethal Weapon or Beverly Hills Cop -style ride, but rather more dark and unforgiving film. Main heroes of the movie aren't actually invincible and they don't runs as a machine gun target, then laugh about it, and throw funny one-liner in the middle of the action. This is first revealed when the elder agent Hart is investigating money laundry. At this point director (Friedkin) has given impression to the viewer that Hart plays big part in this movie. The movie seems to play like your regular 80's buddy-cop-movie. Then director takes away a character (det. Hart) you already started to like by a violent surprise: gruesomely shot in the head with shotgun and instant death. Tone of the so expected "buddy-cop-movie" changes instantly, and image of regular, happy cop-movie is shattered into pieces. It's a bit of a shocker, and the turning point when movie actually starts. The tone-change works beautifully well.

Chance is arranged a new partner, John Vukovich (Pankow), who even though trying his hardest, cannot really reclaim the place of the Chance's previous partner. Vukovich is young, weaker and seems to be constantly afraid of dangerous situations than reckless Chance, who's actually getting bit annoyed of his new partner. Vukovich doesn't accept violent ways of Chance who often uses questionable ways and tactics to solve crimes. This instantly sets a new tone to a movie, which started as buddy-cop-movie with shocking ending, is now turning into a game with two cops falling into controversy. It's now about bit whiny Vukovich and violent Chance, and how they get along, while Chance is driving his vengeance forward to get his hands on the criminal Eric Masters (Dafoe) by any way possible whether illegal or legal. Vukovich, meantime, is dragging along him and wrestling with a moral dilemma of the mission. Does he help his partner, or does he rat his partner's illegal deeds out?

(Pankow at L, Petersen at R)

Another shocker (spoiler warning) is the ending, when Chance and Vukovich get on close with Masters -- on undercover mission -- and fight breaks out. Chance gets shot in the head leaving poor Vukovich alone and frightened. It's the scene where Vukovich finally has to decide "do I have balls to finish this and chase Masters, or do I flee like I've done several times before?". Shocking, and kind of cool thing here is, that director once again dares to take merciless approach instead of happy ending. A fresh breath. He's already executed another agent three days before his retirement, now he lets the main character, Chance, to go as well and by a brutal way. Leaving only a wimp cop to decide if he has balls for the job or not. This once again shows that any character in this movie is just flesh and blood, not steel. To Live And Die In L.A gives a strong, raw, and violent immersion to the viewer without any mercy what so ever.

So, the plot is quite basic "avenge-your-partners-death" scenario with having to cope with new unwanted partner. What makes this movie exceptional is how director surprises the viewer, that even main character are flesh and blood -- and makes the scenes quite gruesome. Shooting of the elder agent reminded me a bit of the original Robocop movie, where the main character gets his hand shot off, before getting executed by whole criminal gang.

To Live And Die in L.A also has huge 80's influence with kind of a cheesy electronic pop-rock playing in background, combined with brutality of the movie, and boy does it work great! Scenery is one of the most beautiful I've seen on old movies like this, while Chance's driving around his car on sunset and early night around L.A. Scenery and music of this movie together leaves great impression and makes the movie memorable in it's own right. There's a few cheesy dancing scenes here and there showing off some of the beautiful women, that don't really have much to do with the plot but who cares. The movie has sort of a unique, weird vibe, given by it's tone, music, and beautiful setting - surreal?

Petersen is vicious in this movie

Acting is well executed, I didn't really notice anyone being very poor in that field, and acting isn't actually that cheesy either, despite some other areas of the film might be, such as music (in good meaning). Dafoe does nice job as a crook, who's pleasure is arts and women. He plays sophisticated evil. Pankow does also decent job as the new partner, never really accepted by Chance (Petersen), repeatedly trying to claim is pride, while at the same time wresting with moral dilemmas. But, I think the best actor of the film is Petersen, playing cold, reckless and systematical agent on his mission for vengeance. He will do anything to achieve his goal, while similarly getting new tips about crimes and criminals from a woman on parole (Debra Feuer). Chance keeps using the woman for tips, while banging her occasionally, and threatening to cut off her parole if she stops giving him tips. He plays cold-hearted guy perfectly here, and also thus the sex-scenes of the movie don't come out too forced, but sort of make sense. The movie also features other known faces in supporting roles, such as John Torturro and Dean Stockwell.

Blu-Ray quality in this movie isn't near to perfect, though, and if you'd get DVD for very cheap, it would be one option to consider. The picture is quite grainy at places, more than averagely on a Blu-Ray release. I'll give for To Live And Die In L.A Blu-Ray only 3.5 out of 10 for picture quality.

The movie succeeds perfectly merging beautiful landscapes, cheesy 80's musical tunes, good-cop bad-cop play and violent setting where no-one is invincible. There's some deliberate humor included in middle of all the darkness, and while that is not much, it's well timed. Mostly the tone is quite dark though, merged with more vibrant setting of L.A and with some beautiful babes. It's got almost that Miami Vice-vibe at places, with some Lethal Weapon (the first) kind of anger, but it's just much more raw and violent. Violence in the film is well executed also. It's not all the time in-your-face, but when a brutal scene comes, it succeeds to shock and surprise, totally. The pace of the movie varies from more drama-type of parts into full-driven 80's action -- like that long car chase scene which was great by the way, almost like straight out of Cobra (Stallone) or something alike. This film is very entertaining and never really slows down much either, despite not being your another Commando-movie. One of the more memorable darker-vibe cop action movies of the 80's. Imagine R-rated Miami Vice with good-cop-bad-cop version and then some. Highly recommended!

When comedy hits, it hits hard

The Good

  • Shocking moments
  • Beautiful setting
  • Pacey action
  • Petersen & Dafoe
  • Musical score
  • Dark tone of the movie
  • Memorable car chase

The Bad

  • Pankrow feels a bit out of place
  • Little more dark humor would had made it perfect
  • Blu-Ray looks like DVD in quality

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