#16 To Live and Die in L.A. (dir: William Friedkin, 1985)
My fascination with the work of William Friedkin began properly at university. I’d seen The Exorcist, first on dodgy VHS during my early teens, then quite overjoyed when re-released in my late teens 1999. The film was banned in the UK from home release. It wasn’t a video nasty but James Ferman, the then dictator of Soho Square (to nick a quote from a writer I honestly cannot recall at this moment of typing), didn’t want it shown. During uni whilst everybody else was freaking over Godard and all that, my major discovery was William Friedkin. Of course I was in a minority back then but fast foward ten years later and this cat is now something of a cult figure. I adore a few of his films and I can tell you right now there’s more than one Friedkin film in this Top Twenty Challenge list (that’s as much a clue as you’ll get).
To Live and Die in L.A. was made in 1985 and shot with an unknown cast who have now all become rather famous. Even William Petersen, never a great screen presence has found a home and fame on the smalls creen in the CSI series (Friedkin directed a couple of episodes down the years too). Petersen plays a secret service agent named Chance (great name given his character traits) set on taking down the guy who killed his best bud and partner. Chance is adamant that even if it’s the last thing he’ll do is bring counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe) to justice. But not by the book justice: it’s gunishment (to nick a phrase from Chris Morris).
To Live and Die in L.A. was a modest hit and critical favourite, though it still received mixed reviews. Fast forward twenty-seven years and this is one of the best cop thrillers ever and well due some praise. Petersen, who would also appear a year later in Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986) is superb as Chance. The terse dialogue is just brilliant. Here’s a dialogue exchange, for example:
Ruth Lanier: How much do I get for the information I gave you on Waxman?
Richard Chance: No arrest, no money.
Ruth Lanier: It’s my fault he’s dead? It took me six months to get next to him. I got expenses, you know.
Richard Chance: Guess what? Uncle Sam don’t give a shit about your expenses. You want bread, fuck a baker.
Robby Muller’s cinematography is also excellent and crying out for a lovely Blu-ray transfer. Friedkin offers us a vision of Los Angeles unlike we’ve seen before and a world away from Hollywood glamour. Anonymous freeways, trainyards, gyms, strip clubs, warehouses and bad neighbourhoods: this is the world of To Live and Die in L.A.
The film also possesses a bonkers car chase that makes The French Connection look like Driving Miss Daisy (couldn’t resist a lazy comparison). If Friedkin went for low angle shots with the camera tied to the bumper, here the director mounts it to the bonnet and makes brilliantly timed panning shots along side whip-tight editing.
To Live and Die in L.A. is a superior cop thriller with a couple of excellent and surprising moments that no matter how many times I see always make exclaim ‘Fuck!’ And look out for Jane Leeves (former Benny Hill girl and Daphne from Frasier playing a lesbian). Oh, and did I mention the Wang Chung soundtrack?
The Top Twenty Films Challenge is an inter-blog daily feature between myself and Laurent di Alberti at FilmLand Empire blog. Each of us will reveal our Top 20 favourite films. On Friday 22nd Laurent named Le Père Noel Est Une Ordure as his number 17. For the other Cinemart entries click here: Top Twenty Films Challenge.