To Live and Die
in L.A. - S.E.
Starring: William Peterson,
Willem Dafoe, John Pankow
MGM Home Entertainment
Date: December 2, 2003
December 2, 2003
Secret Service agent
Richard Chance (Petersen) has a
to settle and he's through
playing by the
rules. Whether that means blackmailing
a beautiful parolee, disobeying direct orders or hurtling
wrong way down a crowded
freeway, he vows
to take down a murderous
counterfeiter (Dafoe) by
any means necessary with the help of his new partner
(Pankow). But as the
stakes grow higher, will Chance's obsession with
vengeance ultimately destroy him?
Seeing one of
William Friedkin's earlier films is a relief since most of his
films over the past decade have been nothing more than duds or
only passable encounters. I enjoyed most of Rules of Engagement,
but had more than a few problems with The Hunted,
although a certain foot chase was terrific. However, To Live
and Die in L.A. is ultimately Friedkin's last great film as
he returns to familiar territory previously explored in The
French Connection. With both his solid and spontaneous style, Friedkin
creates an effective, gritty and genre-defying thriller.
To Live and
Die in L.A. arrived in 1985 on the heels of TV's Miami
Vice. 48 Hrs. had already been released three years
earlier, introducing critics and audiences to a new era of buddy
cop films. Thing is, this film is much different. It combines
the danger and thrills of life in the fast lane. Still, a lot of
people didn't give the film much of a chance. And only two years
later Lethal Weapon would arrive and make a strong impact
on the buddy cop genre.
From a novel by Gerald Petievich,
Live and Die in L.A.
shows the dark
side, paranoia and desperation of two Secret Service agents
working in Los Angeles to bring down a killer. Richard Chance
lives on the edge, but his new partner, John Vukovich (Pankow),
does not. Following these two men on their investigation is
intriguing to watch.
Chance and Vukovich
go undercover as businessmen to make a buy from Eric Masters
(Dafoe) in order
to arrest him in the act, but complications occur; they don't
have the collateral to put up as a down payment. The script, by
Petievich, includes several subplots that are equally
interesting to watch and effectively contribute to the main
For example, Chance has a
relationship with Ruth (Darlanne Fluegel), a woman out on parole
who sometimes acts as an informer. She gives Chance a tip about
a man carrying fifty thousand dollars arriving at the train
station. Chance seizes the opportunity to steal that money for
the down payment
even though he'll be committing a criminal act, and Vukovich
joins him despite reluctantly. After apprehending the
man and searching his suitcase, a terrific car chase ensues. It
rivals the one in The French Connection and at at times
Friedkin outdoes himself. This chase covers a lot more soil,
such as going the wrong way on the freeway (literally), racing
over L.A.'s cement riverbed, and resulting in a frenetic state
of paranoia and fear for Vukovich. Moments like these make
Live and Die in L.A. a touch-as-nails and gritty film.
Seeing a tough and slim William
Peterson in this film pre-CSI is kind of cool. He really
puts a lot of effort into his performance, making the viewer
believe this guy will not stop at anything to get his way.
Despite the arrogance in him, Richard Chance is a likeable
character. It's understanding that his Secret Service image and attitude change
after the film's opening sequence, which, by the way, is
terrific. On top of that he has to stomach the killing of his
partner by the ruthless
counterfeiter Eric Masters. Peterson would later go on to star
in another cool thriller, Manhunter, but I like his
no-holds-barred performance in
To Live and Die in L.A.
Willem Dafoe is effectively smart and menacing at the same time.
It should be noted he's not a cliché. He can be pretty ruthless
and creepy at times, but is able to retain a somewhat sane behavior
when it comes to making love to his girlfriend Bianca (Debra Feuer). What gets him in trouble, however, is his job,
making counterfeit money. Speaking of that, the montage
featuring Masters creating the counterfeit money is just
amazing. Composed to Wang Chung's cool 80's retro score,
Friedkin and cinematographer Robby Muller capture the process in
great detail. In fact, the production manufactured some $100
thousand dollars worth of fake bills just for that sequence.
To Live and
Die in L.A. is not without its flaws. The middle moves
somewhat slow and a few scenes feel disjointed. Some aspects of
the film are not entirely realistic, although it is the
exaggerated reality that makes the film so intense. Friedkin's
solid direction puts the film right on track on almost every
occasion. He's familiar with the genre and gives audiences a
new, much grittier view of Los Angeles, one that doesn't reflect
the city of angels idiom. Friedkin is not afraid to deliberately
blur the line of good and bad in a story like this. Moreover, he
also gets terrific performances out of the actors portraying
three-dimensional characters. Chance, Masters and Vukovich all
have something in common; they each have their own motivations.
Their dialogue is also realistic.
To Live and Die in L.A. comes highly recommended. See it for
Friedkin, Peterson and Dafoe.
To Live and Die in L.A. in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Colors are vibrant and well-saturated. Color detail looks nice.
I noticed some softness in a few scenes, although dark tones and
blacks looked good. Image quality looks clean and sharp. MGM did
a very nice job cleaning it up. Only a few specks appear on the
print. Some grain and dust also appear. I didn't notice any
compression artifacts, however. Interior scenes are well-lit,
while exterior shots change color hues from time to time. That's
mostly due to the atmosphere of the particular day. Sometimes
the sun gives Los Angeles a hot and gritty look. Overall, MGM's
presentation looks very nice.
To Live and Die in L.A. in English 5.1 Dolby Digital
Surround Sound. Wang Chung's score sounds off nicely in this
presentation. It penetrates the soundfield from all sides.
Dialogue scenes are clear and easy to understand, with the two
front channels reproducing them in good fashion. There is not a
great deal of dynamic range as some dialogue is a bit quiet, but
that depends on the individual scene. Sound effects, like those
in the kick-ass freeway chase, sound just great. The surrounds
have their work cut out for them during some of the film's
action-oriented scenes. Overall, this is a pretty good audio
Also available are French Stereo
Surround and Spanish Mono dub tracks.
This film really deserves a nice
special edition and MGM did just that for us film fans. Aside
from very nice video and audio quality, the studio has produced
a reasonable amount of extras to please fans of the film.
First is an all-new audio
commentary by William Friedkin. He's pretty soft-spoken and
goes into all sorts of things. He covers some of the production
as well as specific scenes in the film and story. He also
comments on the actors a bit. Overall, I enjoyed this track. If
only he could've been joined by William L. Peterson, Willem
Dafoe and John Pankow. Now that would've been fantastic!
Even though we don't get a
commentary by those guys, they do participate in a fantastic,
all-new documentary called Counterfeit World: The Making of
To Live and Die in L.A. (29:49). The docu features cool
behind-the-scenes footage and some very nice interviews with
those three guys in addition to Friedkin, co-producer/editor Bud
Smith, prop master Berry Bedig, and one brief stint by actress
Darlanne Fluegel. Several really cool stories
come out of this documentary, especially those about the airport
foot chase and the shooting of the counterfeiting montage at the
beginning of the film, plus a few others, like the one where an
undercover police officer spotted Pankow in a restaurant a year
after the film's release and emphasized the actor's paranoid and
frantic performance was very realistic.
The docu also focuses on working
with Friedkin from the points of view by the actors. Other
topics of discussion is the freeway chase and the film's
shocking climax. The chase filmed for five weeks at the end of
the shooting schedule and included roughly 40 stunt guys.
Peterson got to do a lot of his own driving. I guess it goes
without saying that this documentary is pretty damn cool.
Next are two featurettes. The
alternate ending featurette (8:39) discusses the film's
shocking climax with interviews by Friedkin, Peterson and Smith.
Friedkin shot an alternate ending just in case, mainly for the
studio, but realized
it just didn't work. It features Chance and Vukovich reassigned to a
place in Alaska. "That ending would've been the Eddie Murphy
ending," said Peterson. And he's right, it would be.
You can watch the alternate ending as part of the
featurette or by itself.
The second one is the deleted
scene featurette (4:25). In the scene, presented in really
weak video quality, Vukovich pays a visit to his ex-wife to try
and settle things, but gets shut out. It's a brief scene, but
Friedkin admits to liking it. He would've left it if it were
possible. You can watch the deleted scene as part of the
featurette or by itself.
Rounding out the extras is a
photo gallery with 62 stills, the film's theatrical
trailer (2:06) and teaser (1:25), plus bonus
trailers for Dark Blue, Fargo and La Femme
select to view the film with optional English, French and
subtitles. The 116-minute feature is organized into
To Live and
Die in L.A. features an intricate plot that blurs the lines
of good and bad. Characters are three-dimensional, giving the
actors great material to turn into terrific performances. Friedkin's
direction is really solid and the action is intense. MGM's
video/audio transfers are pretty nice. Extras are not
overwhelming, but pretty good. The DVD is highly recommended. A
purchase is in order, but not only for fans of the film.
(not an average)
VERDICT: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED