Stars – William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Turturro, John Pankow
Director – William Friedkin
Released by Shout Select
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
This one sits rightfully alongside The Exorcist, The French Connection and Sorcerer as the best of director William Friedkin’s work. To Live and Die in L.A. is a riveting and outstanding crime thriller. It’s based on a book by former Secret Service agent Gerald Peteivich. Peteivich belongs to a small group of modern crime writers whose work has a striking realism to them. Along with guys like Eugene Izzi and George V. Higgins (Friends of Eddie Coyle, Cogan’s Trade which became the film Killing Them Softly) they brought hard boiled to a scorching level. Characters behaved like you’d imagine their real life counter parts would. And that goes for the detectives and cops as well as the bad guys. While Elmore Leonard regularly and justifiably lit up the best seller lists with his cleverly plotted books filled with colorful low life criminals these other guys developed a strong following among hard core mystery and crime readers. You’d expect to see , “Not For The Faint Hearted” emblazoned across the front of these books as a caution. That’s where this story came from. Peteivich and Friedkin collaborated on the screenplay.
The film opens as we look through the early morning haze over Los Angeles. It’s got a worn out beauty to it. The lead character played by William Petersen is a detective that plays fast and loose with morality and safety. Yet he lives and dies by a code that is as strict and clear as anything in the picture. Trust is a big issue. His partner of many years is killed hours before his retirement. Willem Dafoe plays the killer. He’s a very creepy individual who makes counterfeit cash. There is a stunning sequence with Dafoe as he carefully prepares his plates for making counterfeit bills. He exhales across some kind of metal film and we see the image he breathes life into. Later he tosses the bills into a tumble dryer with lots of plastic poker chips to give it just the right amount of wear and tear. Dafoe moves with a Zen like precision. He paints from his soul and then sets the painting on fire. He’s got a very sexy, slinky girlfriend. This is not your typical villain. Petersen gets a new partner in John Pankow. So what he needs to know right quick is whether he can trust this new guy to the extent that he needs to in order to work at the speed he is comfortable with. Can they both get Dafoe to trust them as they try to snare him. Petersen also plays out a string of hope with a lady on parole. He takes what he needs from her in every way he can.
The film moves quickly. Conversations seem natural and believable. Characters say one thing yet we know they are working an angle. Much of the dialogue was improvised so it has a fresh quality to it. However many scenes have a breath taking look to them. Compositions and colors are purposeful and compelling. For whatever reason Friedkin likes his films to look as if they were made on the edge. Every action scene is pushed and taken past the limit you’d expect. Everyone knows this is the guy that did that spectacular car chase in The French Connection. He sets up scenes as if he wants to blow that expectation out of the water. There is a level of danger and risk taking that people who have worked with him talk about. When you watch a film like this one the action scenes crackle with an electricity. That chase scene in the LAX airport rocks. Petersen leaps up onto the escalator and surges along like an elevated subway car closing in on John Turturro. The set piece on the highway with cars and trucks is a heart stopper. As powerful as those scenes are we get an equal amount of intensity from the performances. Petersen and Dafoe are perfectly cast. They seem to give this picture everything they’ve got. Friedkin either knows how to push all the right buttons with his actors or to give them enough room to do their thing.
To Live and Die in L.A. tells a sordid tale of corruption and balls to the wall law enforcement. The central bad guy, the one the lead character will seemingly do anything to get has so many twisted traits in his character that it feels justified. As an action film this totally satisfies. The characters are drawn deep and unusual. As we follow Willem Dafoe and William Petersen we never know quite where they will go. Friedkin keeps us on edge. It’s a helluva picture and one that deserves all the praise you wanna heap on it.
Video – 1.85:1
The previous Blu-Ray that was put out by MGM had an excellent looking picture. This one is equally great. Shout’s version is a bit brighter in scenes. Certain colors come across stronger. Overall the detail feels sharper. That’s not to say the older one was soft at all, just that this one brings out the detail more by virtue of an enhanced brightness. The uptick in brightness and detail is very obvious. I must admit though that I was a bit nervous when I read that Friedkin had approved this new 4K scanned transfer. He has been know to meddle with the look of his films to their detriment as he did with The French Connection. This time though the picture is great.
Audio – DTS-HD Master 5.1 , DTS-HD Master 2.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH
This is to my ear the same rock’em, sock’em soundtrack that graced the previous edition. Dialogue is easy to follow. Effects hit you in the gut. Wang Chung’s music takes you back to the eighties and fits the film very well.
Extras – NEW 4K Scan Of The Negative Supervised And Approved By William Friedkin NEW Taking A Chance – An Interview With William Petersen NEW Wrong Way: The Stunts Of To Live And Die In L.A. – An Interview With Stunt Coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker NEW So In Phase: Scoring To Live And Die In L.A. – An Interview With The Band Wang Chung (Jack Hues And Nick Feldman) NEW Renaissance Woman In L.A. – An Interview With Actress Debra Feuer NEW Doctor For A Day – An Interview With Actor Dwier Brown Audio Commentary With Director William Friedkin Deleted Scene And Alternate Ending Counterfeit World: The Making Of To Live And Die In L.A. Still Gallery Theatrical Trailer Radio Spot
The new interview with actor William Petersen is terrific. He has good recall from his casting in the film to various scenes that they shot. He paints a clear picture of what working on that set was like. He clearly liked working with Friedkin.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Classic