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"It's nice to see that there are plenty of fans of this often-overlooked gem from 1985. This has to be one of the best crime movies in a long time, and easily one of the best counterfeiting movies as it shows this dirty business from all angles. William Friedkin was on top of the world for a brief time in the 1970s. After Cruising (1980), he suffered personal and professional setbacks. This film is proof positive that he is an exceptionally talented director with some of the best technical skills in the biz. Indeed, Rules of Engagement and The Hunted provide recent proof that he can still deliver the goods. To Live and Die in LA is not your ordinary cops and robber, dirty money, sex and violence tale. The casting and the scripting are excellent; there is a lot up on the screen. The characters are not superhero cops and crooks, but human beings driven by greed, revenge, hubris, and lust for money, power, and violence. William Chance (the excellent William Petersen of current CSI fame) is a Secret Service agent whose partner is murdered by counterfeiter extraordinaire Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe). Chance swears to take down Masters, one way or the other, a promise that sends he and his new partner Vukovitch into a tailspin of cat and mouse where they break the rules and get in over their heads. This is not the old buddy movie formula or the typical Dirty Harry and the new partner scenario by a long shot. Chance is an appropriate name for the hotdog agent who enjoys base jumping in his spare time (note the quick flash to his jump off the Vincent Thomas during the hectic chase). Vukovitch is caught between doing right by his partner and bringing his career and his life crashing down. This is not your typical LA cop film; Friedkin has gone to great lengths to film LA differently than most directors. Indeed, this is the precursor to Heat and City of Industry, movies that dare to show LA as more than Hollywood and the hills and the downtownarea. The title indicates a `life is cheap' attitude that is reflected in the poor, industrial landscapes of the City of Angels. There's another Friedkin car chase that rivals The French Connection and was not made with any computer generated Matrix help. Wang Chung add an excellent score--no joke! The haunting piano riffs, synthesized screams for help, and loud, pulsing drum machine and sequencer tracks underscore the action without getting out shouted by the sound (like a lot of electronic film music). The disc is in print, though oddly enough their hit 'Dance Hall Days', featured in the film, does not show up. They even work the title of the film into a song(!) The film is noir-ish quality in its character treatment. Chance shacks up with a hooker who feeds him info, but he's ready to throw her back in the can if she doesn't deliver the goods. There's a sleazy lawyer played by Dean Stockwell. There's a gangly, nervous turncoat played by John Turturro. There's a street hood played by Steve James who distributes 'paper' for Masters. And Vukovitch? I won't dream of giving up the ending here. There's even Ronald Reagan's voice making a cameo in the beginning. This tough, violent film does not pull punches. The world of cops and robbers, dirty lawyers and convicts, police politics and male ego, and above all, dirty money, are all starkly presented. The lines are blurred when the agents will do anything to stop a suave
crook who is more complex than the cops themselves. I love the scene of Masters burning his new painting after completing it. How has this film been out of print for so long? When a local video store was going out of business (squeezed out by a major), I snatched this tape up in the liquidation sale. Thankfully, the film is FINALLY getting a proper DVD release. Hopefully they'll widescreen it and give us a good print; the VHS version does not do the film any justice. This is a film with style and substance, a moment in Hollywood where they got it all right. I don't think they can even turn out gems like this anymore. Do not hesitate to buy this."
One of the Great Neo-Noirs Stands the Test of Time.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 04/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When I saw "To Live and Die in L.A." in the 1980s, I was struck by its worldliness, its style, its sexual energy, and its shocker of an ending. It was immediately one of my favorite films of the decade. I recently watched the film again to see if it withstood the test of time. And I was a little surprised to find that "To Live and Die in L.A." is still one of the most complex and cynical neo-noir films, 20 years after it was made. The film was based on the novel "To Live and Die in L.A." by former Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich and adapted for the screen by Petievich and director William Friedkin, the creative force behind the previous decade's "The Exorcist" and "The French Connection". At the risk of being blasphemous, I have always found "To Live and Die in L.A." more memorable than "The French Connection", which is why I was tempted to see it again.
When his partner is killed while tracking down a notorious counterfeiter, hotshot Secret Service agent Richard Chance (William Petersen) vows to nail the killer at any cost. The counterfeiter is Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe), a promising abstract expressionist painter and cunning criminal. Together with his new straight-arrow but spineless partner John Vukovich (John Pankow), Chance tries surveillance, extortion, and subterfuge to incriminate Masters, but Masters is always one step ahead of him. Chance resorts to stealing funds for an undercover operation, and even the corrupt interplay of cops and criminals begins to unravel.
Director William Friedkin wanted a cast of virtual unknowns, and maybe that's why "To Live and Die in L.A."'s box office receipts didn't reflect its quality. More likely, the world of 1985 wasn't in the mood for a film in which everything is counterfeit: the money, the relationships, the cops, the criminals. Nothing is what it pretends to be. But Friedkin can hardly be faulted for choosing an excellent cast. This was William Petersen's first major film role, and I can't help but think that, together with 1986's "Manhunter", it would have made him a big star had it been made a few years later. Both films were ahead of their time. Not because they were better than other films being made in the mid-1980s -although it happens that they were- but that their themes were simply not timed to coincide with what audiences wanted at that moment. In any case, Petersen gets credit for generating the energy that keeps this story moving. John Pankow gets credit for being the human expression of a world falling apart, through whom we sense the chaos. William Friedkin gets credit for the fantastic counterfeiting sequence and the creative decisions in story, music, and cinematography -including the gutsy ending- that make "To Live and Die in L.A." exceptional. This is a must-see for fans of neo-noir.
The DVD (2004 Special Edition from MGM): There is a nice package of bonus features on the Special Edition disc, including a making-of documentary, an alternate ending, a deleted scene, a photo gallery, and an audio commentary. "Counterfeit World" (30 minutes) is a documentary about making the film that features modern interviews with director William Friedkin, the film's cast, and some principle crew, as well as a bit of on-set footage. Definitely worth seeing if you like the film. You can see the Alternate Ending (5 minutes) and Deleted Scene (4 minutes) with or without introductory featurettes. I recommend viewing the featurettes, so you'll understand what you're watching. The alternate ending was made at the request of the producers and is truly horrible. The "Stills Gallery" is a slideshow of stills and on-set photos. The audio commentary by director William Friedkin is worthwhile. It's not a scene-by-scene analysis, but comments on filming, story, casting, music, cinematography, and various interesting tidbits. Subtitles are available for the film in English, French, and Spanish. Dubbing is available in French and Spanish."
It is about time!!! GREAT MOVIE
Mitch Weaver | Houston, TX | 11/09/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Richard Chance ( William Petersen), is a member of the Secret Service who loves to live on the edge, and play by his own rules. Eric Masters ( Willem Dafoe) is a master at creating counterfiet cash, and is at the top of the agency's most wanted list for killing Chance's long time partner. Now Chance is willing to do whatever it takes to take Masters down, and the line between cop and criminal is starting to run thin. Both Chance and Masters waver on both sides of the law, as they take us on a cat and mouse chase through the streets of L.A. that is extremely suspenseful and never lets up!"To Live and Die in L.A.", has to be one of the most suspenseful and action packed crime films that I have ever seen. Director William Friedkin is best known for the films "French Connection" and "The Exorcist". However, this has to be his best film. This is the first crime film that I have ever seen, that deals solely with the Secret Service, and NOT the FBI, CIA, or the police. That alone, makes it original. Not to mention the fact, that this is the only crime film, where the hero of the story has traits of a villan and is vulnerable. Some of Petersen's actions are actually questionable. William Petersen is an outstanding actor , and I have enjoyed all of his films. Secret Serive Agent Richard Chance, is one of his best characters by far because he loves to live on the edge, and plays by his own rules. Willem Dafoe is amazing in everything he does, and Eric Masters is one of his best roles. Masters is the story's villan, who is cold, calculating, highly intelligent, charming, and extremely ruthless! You don't know whether to like the guy, or hate the guy. John Turturo and Dean Stockwell are also both outstanding in their roles. This film also has one of the most surprising and disturbing endings that I have ever seen. The soundtrack is also amazing. It is basically a Wang Chung's Greatest Hits CD. Wang Chung is one of the best 80's groups of all time. Every song used is perfect, and really drives each scene.In my opinion, it will be extremely difficult to find a crime film better than this one. Everything about it is perfect. The story is EXTREMELY original, the acting is phenomenal, the overall suspense will keep you on the edge of your seat, and the soundtrack is amazing. All I can say, is that it about time that this film was released on DVD. An absolute must buy!!"
Matt | Portland, OR USA | 09/13/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"To Live and Die in LA is a movie that I MUST watch at least 2-3 times a year. It is one of my all time favorites. How this movie slipped under the radar of moviegoers and critics alike..I have no clue. It is awesome that the movie finally gets its due with a release on DVD.The filming is beautiful. The acting of Petersen as a hell-bent on revenge secret service agent, and Dafoe as a twisted genius criminal is top notch. Dafoe's character of Rick Masters is one of the all time great villains. The action is quick, and suspense builds throughout the movie. The ending is shocking."
One of the Greatest
Anthony Ian | Chicago, IL United States | 01/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you're reading this, you've probably seen the movie--I'm not sensing a lot of people here who searched for this film.
So to the point: this movie will always remain in my mind for, first and foremost, its ending. Never before in a film had I seen the story line go the way this one did (those of you who've seen it know what I'm talking about). I was literally slack-jawed when all that went down... I just couldn't believe it.
Anyway, to the point, DVD owners: what's cool about owning it on DVD? First and foremost, the movie holds up. The Wang Chung soundtrack doesn't sound dated--it sounds like they created it in their own little timeless universe. Nobody really sounded like them anyway, and they didn't sound like anybody.
The story is a blast and what a rush to see before-they-were-famous performances from Petersen, Dafoe and John Turturro. They're all household names now, but at this point they were literally unknown.
The sound and the print are great; and the car chase is an all-time classic. Somebody here dissed it in comparison to the Matrix Reloaded--which is bunk, because 70% of that chase (although it's awesome) was CGI. This was actually done for real.
But what really makes the DVD awesome are the extras--the making-of short is a must-see, and it's a kick to see interviews with the original cast members, who obviously enjoyed being in this movie. There's a present-day CSI William Petersen reflecting fondly on the shoot, along with Willem Dafoe.
But the biggest kick of all is the alternate ending shot for the film, when the studio balked at the original (and final) ending--OMG, how ridiculous. The actors literally seem to be smirking through the scene, knowing how absurd it is. Thank the Lord the director never took it seriously.
Friedkin's commentary is very entertaining, if sometimes rambling. He doesn't necessarily dissect the movie scene-by-scene, but rather offers a general, overall philosophy of film making. What's also interesting in retrospect is that apparently this film didn't do to well at the box office; to me it's an easy Top 10, but on the other hand it would be hard to market a film which is not easily explainable in 25 words or less.