Review: ‘To Live and Die in L.A.’

From the moment the opening credits fill the screen with a riot of lime-green and magenta, it is abundantly clear that this action yarn is anchored in the 1980s. Seen at a historical remove, that identity is both a good and bad thing. Redeeming the DVD are several well-chosen features that put the film in its proper context.

From the moment the opening credits fill the screen with a riot of lime-green and magenta, it is abundantly clear that this action yarn is anchored in the 1980s. Seen at a historical remove, that identity is both a good and bad thing. Visually, it allows the city of Los Angeles to look compellingly dingy, with Robby Muller’s expert cinematography capturing a time when first-stage smog alerts besmirched even the South Bay. On the downside are the mannered Wang Chung synth soundtrack and a wet blanket of “Miami Vice”-like melodrama. Redeeming the DVD are several well-chosen features that put the film in its proper context.

William Petersen of “CSI” fame makes a garrulous contribution to the documentary “Counterfeit World: The Making of ‘To Live and Die in L.A.” He recalls how officials at Los Angeles Airport warned director William Friedkin not to film on the moving sidewalks. He defied the order, and the result was a rousing foot chase in which Petersen’s pursues a counterfeit suspect played by John Turturro.

The docu detours too much into the film’s depiction of counterfeit rings, which was executed with much the same obsessiveness that marked Friedkin’s better-realized “The French Connection.” There’s not enough time left to adequately consider the film’s justly famous car chase.

An alternate ending would have placed Petersen and partner John Pankow at a frigid outpost that is the polar opposite of the conflagration that foils counterfeiter Willem Dafoe. Commenting on the disc’s lone deleted scene, Friedkin offers DVD viewers something unusual. He insists it was crazy to cut the awkward exchange between Petersen and his ex-wife. “They gave such great performances there,” he says wistfully.

To Live and Die in L.A.

Production

An MGM release of the 1985 MGM/UA release. Producer, Irving H. Levin. Director, William Friedkin. Script, Friedkin and Gerald Petievich.

Cast

With: William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, Debra Feuer, John Turturro, Dean Stockwell. Release: Dec. 2
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