Retro Review: To Live And Die In L.A.

**No spoilers**.

In 1985, I went to see a film at the cinema. I was attracted by the two stars, William Petersen, and Willem Dafoe. This is a film about obsession. The obsession of one government agent for revenge, and the obsession of a criminal to avoid arrest at all costs. Just recently, it was shown on TV here and I watched it again, 38 years after that first viewing.

I was still very impressed. This is film noir meeets the age of the pop video, with some vivid colours, and a soundtrack by Wang Chung. The British new wave band composed all the music for the film, and to be honest, it sometimes jars with the visuals. However, this is a film about time and place, and it is near-perfect in that respect.

The ‘good guys’ are Secret Service agents who work in the specialist field of counterfeit money. Petersen (always an intense actor) plays Chance, a no-nonsense rule breaker who cares nothing for procedure, as long as he gets his man. When his partner is killed two days before he is due to retire, Chance goes off the rails to track down his killer. He gets a new partner, Vukovich. (John Panko) He plays it by the book. Suited, reliable, and not about to go along with any rule breaking. So the chase is on for the villain by this mis-matched pair.

The bad guys are printing counterfeit money like it is going out of fashion, led by the talented forger, Rick Masters. (A startlingly young-looking Dafoe.) He has a mule named Cody, played by the talented John Tuturro, and a henchman who does the heavy stuff. When they are surprised by Chance’s former partner, they take him out without a second thought.

Masters is artistic. He paints, his girlfriend is a dancer in an alternative show, and he produces near-flawless forged notes. But he is also completly ruthless, and like the man hunting him, he acts without a second thought when it comes to his own needs and desires.

Chance goes on the offensive. Hassling informants, and following the money to the door of a top lawyer. (Dean Stockwell.) He arrests Cody at the airport, then puts pressure on him in prison. Car chases ensue, but they are good ones. Lots of people get shot, and Chance gets closer and closer to Masters as time runs out for both of them.

And the ending completly surprised me in 1985. Something that rarely happens.

This really is top-notch stylish cop drama, filmed in the usually unseen industrial side of Los Angeles, away from the familiar luxury houses and shopping areas. The criminals are seedy, and so are the cops chasing them. It felt real then, and still does now. Petersen and Dafoe are on sparking form, and ably supported by a well-chosen cast.

Highly recommended.
(The trailer has flashing images.)

27 thoughts on “Retro Review: To Live And Die In L.A.

  1. Great review Pete 🙂 Director William Friedkin is now known for two classic car chase sequences – this one (To Live and Die in L.A.) and The French Connection 🙂 Interesting isn’t it? 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great caper flick. While we’re on oldies but goodies on television – I watched a movie that scared the sh*t out of me when I was a teenager. Would have happened again except for the commercial breaks. Don’t know why, it’s not one of those chainsaw or Stephen King jobs. Just the whole tone of it an the camera work. “See No Evil”. Not the crap from the 2ks, but the one with Mia Farrow from 1971.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw that at the cinema when I was 19 or 20. Nice and creepy, with a solid British cast. I had completely forgotten about it until your comment jogged my memory.
      Best wishes, Pete.


All comments welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.