William Friedkin is the director of one of the greatest car chases ever put on film with the 1971 Best Picture “The French Connection.” In 1985, he tried to up his game with the counterfeit caper called “To Live And Die In L.A.”
It is a dated flick with a Wang Chung soundtrack, popped up shirt collars, black leather jackets, and skinny ties. Friedkin goes “Miami Vice” and it more or less works but his lead player, William Peterson, is no Don Johnson. He’s more like a contestant on the dating show “Love Connection.”
Peterson plays a Secret Service agent with the last name of Chance; Richard Chance to be more precise. Kind of apprapo as he seems to always test his fate like bungee jumping off bridges (long before bungee jumping was ever a thing) and taking his tactics over lines that should not be crossed.
Chance is on the trail of nabbing counterfeiter, Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe), who killed Chance’s partner with only three days left until retirement. The cop who gets killed early on always seems to have three days left until retirement. To get at Masters will require Chance to…well…take some chances. He’ll blackmail a prostitute informant. He’ll also pressure his new partner (John Pankow) into circumventing policy. As well, like any movie cop or agent, he’ll go against the instructions of his supervisor. Chance might even rip off a diamond dealing exchange.
The acting is nothing special here. Peterson looks more athletic than fierce or driven. He’d never be Gene Hackman. Dafoe’s weirdly youthful appearance with his Benneton ‘80s outfits look just that…weird! He’s an artist (like with actual paintings) while also printing fake money.
Friedkin’s film carries on its longevity through the years with an effective car chase; one of the best on film. From what I can tell he mounted a camera on the hood of the car. The camera can pivot 360 degrees. So we can see Peterson driving the car and then the camera can swoosh and turn to give a point of view as to where the car is driving. So now the viewer can see where the cars are careening and turning and speeding towards. It gets especially hairy when the car goes the wrong way up the freeway exit ramp into rush hour traffic. No CGI work here. This is in your face material.
“To Live And Die In L.A.” is worth the watch. A surprise moment towards the end also gets your attention by going against the typical cops and robbers formula film. The shoestring budget is apparent here with quite dull cinematography and no big stars at the time (Peterson, Dafoe, Pankow, John Turturro, Dean Stockwell). However, William Friedkin does his best to make every moment worth it, and I can’t deny it, this 80s raised kid thinks the Wang Chung soundtrack is so friggin’ cool.