After his partner is killed, reckless Secret Service agent Richard Chance (Petersen) becomes obsessed with tracking down the man responsible, master counterfeiter Rick Masters (Dafoe). Paired with a new straight-laced partner, John Vukovich (Pankow), the closer Chance gets to Masters the more willing he is to break the rules…
While the plot sounds like the recipe for a predictable cliché-fest (at one point a character actually complains: “I’m gettin’ too old for this shit”), William Friedkin’s To Live And Die In L.A. exists under the radar as a criminally underrated and hugely underappreciated ‘80s crime thriller. Despite being understandably overshadowed by his genre-redefining cop classic The French Connection, it remains one of the best entries on Friedkin’s decidedly uneven CV, a sleazy and intoxicating neo noir that is both dated and ahead of its time.
Clearly influenced by the success that Miami Vice was enjoying at the time, the electro-pop rock score and neon stylings occasionally grate with the filmmaker’s usual grit and naturalism, but the end result is still impressively realistic and peppered with shocking moments of authentic brutality (see the climactic locker scene). Though attempting to outdo his rightly-celebrated car chase from The French Connection might’ve sounded like thankless lunacy prior to filming (how the hell do you top Popeye’s infamous elevated-train pursuit?), Friedkin pulled off the impossible with an incredible against-the-traffic (!) car chase sequence which is arguably even better. There’s great support from the likes of John Turturro and Dean Stockwell, but the movie belongs to William Peterson as the increasingly-obsessive and morally-questionable agent, while Willem Dafoe runs him a close second as the cool, roll-neck-favouring cash forger.
While the plot sounds like the recipe for a predictable cliché-fest, William Friedkin’s To Live And Die In L.A. exists under the radar as a criminally underrated and hugely underappreciated ‘80s crime thriller.