Blu-ray: To Live and Die in LA | reviews, news & interviews
Blu-ray: To Live and Die in LA
Blu-ray: To Live and Die in LA
Stylish 1985 thriller replete with car chases in a welcome restoration
William Friedkin’s super-stylish bad cop/bad villain thriller was his return to form after the disasters of Cruising and Sorcerer. To Live and Die in LA didn’t achieve the instant classic status of The French Connection when it was released in 1985, but it's enjoyed a cult following ever since, and this new edition in a restored print is a treat. It’s a familiar story of amorality and betrayal – the most effective cops are those who think like criminals themselves and are willing to cross the line to nail their target – but told with such slick energy that all clichés are forgiven.
Based on the novel by Gerald Petievich – himself a Secret Service veteran – Friedkin cast William Petersen, then an unknown theatre actor as an agent on the trail of a counterfeiter who is printing fake bills. Willem Dafoe, fresh from playing bad-boy bikers in The Loveless and Streets of Fire, climbs out of his leathers and into the all-black Ferrari of Masters, an artist who bank rolls his painting with high-end forgery. There’s a mesmerising scene as Dafoe creates and prints stacks of ersatz notes. Shot by the German genius of lighting Robby Muller, there's near forensic accuracy in the process sequence because Friedkin enrolled real-life counterfeiters as advisers.
Although the movie is set in shouting distance of Hollywood, it has a gritty near-indie feel. All the action sequences are mechanical (pre-CGI) and there’s extensive use of real locations like artist Mark Gash's studio, and the dry river beds and industrial badlands of East LA. Working with a low budget, Friedkin cast relatively unknown actors (John Turturro, John Pankow, Dean Stockwell) and worked quickly with a small crew. If it proved hard to top the dynamic helter-skelter vehicle mayhem of French Connection, Friedkin certainly tried to match it. To Live and Die in LA has plenty of gripping chase scenes – not just the hero causing chaos on the freeway by driving in the wrong direction (pictured above), but athletic Peterson rampaging through an airport after a suspect and hurtling through the smoggy city streets on foot. The heterosexual sex scenes are of their time, a little sleazy but not rampantly misogynistic. There's a homoerotic undercurrent running through the film which could doubtless inspire lengthy essays by gender studies aficionados.
Friedkin provides a fascinating commentary as one extra on this release: he’s insightful on the casting, amusing on how the counterfeit cash made for the movie ended up in circulation, and informative on his shooting and editing techniques. Others include a behind-the-scenes mini-documentary (which was available on earlier DVD versions) and not particularly inspiring new interviews with actors Debra Feuer and William Petersen, as well as stunt co-ordinator Buddy Joe Hooker. Fans of British musicians Wang Chung will enjoy an in-depth analysis of the film's oh-so-'80s score, but the standout here is getting the chance to see the ludicrous alternative ending and hear Friedkin's explanation of how it came about.
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