Today I watched William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
On the streets of L.A. two secret service officers named Richard Chance and Jimmy Hart (not the pro wrestling manager) are on the trail of big time money launderer Eric Masters. Hart is only a few days from retirement and in abidance of cliche law, is offed very early into the film. This really pushes the already somewhat reckless Chance to a dark place and his new partner, John Vukovich, is not able to rein him in. Chance vows to take down Masters at any cost, the price of revenge can never be too high for him and he slowly goes to greater depths of depraved violence as the film progresses.
This film feels like an east coast take on The French Connection with a little less focus on procedure and a little more on the characters. Like that movie the protagonist is a fairly bad person, though in different ways, Chance is a thrill seeker instead of a bully. In both films the city is a major factor and is brought to life like it’s own character, L.A. is shown as being the opposite of New York which was presented as dense and grimy but hiding an expressive and warm heart. L.A. on the other hand is sparse and it’s outward glitz and glamour covers up the grime and soullessness of the city.
The thematic focus of this film is on the personal corruption that comes from being on the line of duty. Throughout the film the characters are just corroding away into inhuman violence. Much of the effectiveness of this theme can be attributed to the actors, especially the pair of Chance, played by William Peterson, and Vukovich, played by John Pankow. Masters is played by a very young looking Willem Dafoe and while he doesn’t have the same big arc as the heroes, his performance is a career defining one. All of these actors do a great job at presenting their spiraling descent into darkness, or their existence and mastery of the dark side in he case of Dafoe’s Masters character.
To Live and Die in L.A. is another briskly paced and intensely moody crime thriller. The cast deliver some excellent performances and a good handful of them would go on to break out to some level of stardom or another. It is dark and moody but also exciting and action packed, the big car chase being a notably incredible sequence. It may be quite cliche from time to time, but the finale genuinely shocked me and the finale really enhances the themes of corruption and violence. If you likes The French Connection, this is that but expressing the ideas of another decade on the other side of America, classic crime drama at it’s best. 5/5