Monday, April 5, 2010

To Live and Die in LA

By David Luhrssen
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No one did chases like William Friedkin. The Hollywood director pushed the car chase into overdrive with The French Connection (1971) and lesser filmmakers have been trying (with little success) to overtake him ever since. His latter-day police drama, To Live and Die in LA (1985) was no French Connection but featured two memorable chases—one involving a fleet of pursuers through an obstacle course of trucks and narrow lanes, the other an airport foot chase culminating in a memorable men’s room arrest.

To Live and Die in LA has just been released in a two-pack DVD/Blu-ray edition.

It’s a peculiar film in many ways and takes time to find its groove. The disjointed style of MTV seems to have influenced early scenes; soon enough, however, the story of a risk-taking Secret Service agent (William Peterson) who stops at nothing to avenge the murder of his partner begins to hold interest. Unlike The French Connection, dominated by Gene Hackman’s wrathful detective, To Live and Die’s villain is the most memorable character. Played by Willem Dafoe, the bad guy is a painter-cum-counterfeiter, a decadent sociopath inhabiting the fringe of LA’s performance art scene when not inflicting mayhem on anyone who crosses him. John Turturro steals every scene as a petty criminal.

With its Wang Chung synth-pop soundtrack, To Live and Die in LA was considered cool in its day. Nowadays, it’s a time capsule of the Reagan years, albeit aside from the lack of cell phones and SUVs, it’s astonishing how closely the streets of 2010 resembles this movie’s 1985.

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