MOVIE REVIEW | ***FRIEDKIN WEEK*** To Live and Die in LA (1985)

The 80s gets made fun of a lot, and generally, for good reason.  I’m sure it added a lot to the world, but I can’t think how.  And when it comes to movies, I really can’t think of anything all the great and innovative from that time.  I guess Die Hard redefined action movies for the better, but that’s about it.  Or at least, anything good that the 80s did for cinema is greatly overshadowed by everything shit that the 80s did for cinema.  Shit like To Live and Die in LA.

From the opening shot of the smog obscured downtown Los Angeles skyline, to the synth-tastic opening notes of the title song by Wang Chung, to the sound bite of Ronald Regan on a TV, To Live and Die in LA wants to make absolutely sure we all know that this story is going down balls deep in the 80s.  William Peterson is Richard Chance, the kind of cop who literally seconds after watching a suicide bomber explode right in front of his eyes, says, “Let’s get outta here.  Get drunk, play some cards”.

While Richard deals with the retirement of his partner, we meet Willem Dafoe’s Eric Masters, a master counterfeiter with a big job on the go.  And then, coinky-dink alert, Eric kills Richard’s recently retired partner simply for suffering from John McClaine diseases.  Ie. being the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Now Richard is on the hunt for revenge and Eric is busy trying to navigate his way through double dealings, double crosses and general paranoia from crime mates Carl (Jon Turturro) and Bob (Dean Stockwell).  Two actors who always add a lot to anything they’re in.

There’s something just too slick about To Live and Die in LA that doesn’t suit Friedkin’s style. The movie version of the Los Angeles of the 80s was all about Michael Mann style florescence, cocaine and freeways.  If his earlier movies proved anything, it’s that Friedkin’s much more adept at overcast depression, heroine and claustrophobic streets of New York City.

You can see this movie trying to push things darker and more extreme than the million other movies with the exact same broad strokes, but it just never quite gets there.  There’s an anti-hero vibe to William Peterson’s character, but his choices to do the wrong thing escalate a little too fast.  So it’s hard to feel any impact from his increased desperation when we never really had a good idea of who he was before all this shit started going down.

To Live and Die in LA is one of the most egregious examples of a once prestigious director, now forced to slum it, that I have ever seen.  The French Connection might be a genre cop movie, but it lifted the genre higher than it had ever been before.  The Exorcists might be horror, but it’s one of the most well made, legitimately terrifying horror movies ever made and has set the bar for everything since.  To Live and Die in LA on the other hand, is a cheap, clichéd, story full of cheap, clichéd characters that not even Friedkin can elevate above anything other than cheap and clichéd.

To Live and Die in LA
Directed By – William Friedkin
Written By – William Friedkin

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