To Live And Die In L.A.
Released by: Fox
Released on: 2/2/2010
Director: William Friedkin
Cast: William Peterson, Willem Defoe, Michael Green, Darlanne Fluegel, John Turturro
William Friedkin’s action-tastic To Live And Die In L.A. follows a United States Secret Service agent named Richard Chance (William Petersen) who loses his partner and best friend, Jimmy (Michael Greene), to a criminal’s bullet just a short three days before he was to retire. Chance knows that a slippery counterfeiter named Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe), who masquerades as a painter but makes the big bucks unloading his funny money all over the City of Angels, is the one responsible for taking Jimmy’s life and he swears to bring him in regardless of how he has to do it. Chance’s boss pairs him up with a new partner, John Vukovich (John Pankow), who Chance doesn’t initially trust but who he begins to warm to and with some help from a foxy informant (Darlanne Fluegel) and a crook with ties to Masters’ operation named Carl Cody (John Turturro) he sets out to catch the bastard.
Unfortunately, Cody escapes under Chance’s watch and some of the information he’s been getting from the foxy informant, who he’s also having sex with, isn’t as sound as he first thought. He comes to the realization that he’s going to have to bend the law quite a bit if he wants to bring Masters to justice… maybe a bit more than John is going to be comfortable with. Chance, however, isn’t going to let anyone stand in his way, not even his commanding officers and especially not Masters’ slimeball lawyer (Dean Stockwell).
With To Live And Die In L.A., Friedkin has taken what he did with The French Connection and basically moved it to Los Angeles. The results aren’t as good, but they’re still impressive enough and while the picture may not have aged perfectly, there are some great performances here and some really impressive action set pieces. The plethora of clichés in the film hurt it a bit, in that they make the whole thing a bit predictable, but the film does build very effectively towards some unexpected events that occur in the last twenty minutes or so.
Dafoe, looking very young here, is quite good as the arrogant Masters. He plays the role well, with a snide look to him and an obvious sense of malice towards those who he distrusts and has no use for. You can almost smell the ego emanating off of the screen and his interactions with Petersen and Pankow in the scenes they share together is believably tense. Petersen is decent in the lead role, playing Chance as more or less a complete asshole and doing a fine job of it. You don’t ever really get to like his character as he uses people selfishly and doesn’t really care about doing his job the right way so long as he gets his man, but he’s good in the role while decent supporting efforts from the rest of the cast round things out nicely (look for a fun cameo from Steve James).
Friedkin’s talent for staging intense action scenes is given ample opportunity to flex here, with the stand out sequences being a vicious car chase into oncoming traffic on a California freeway and a couple of solid shoot outs mixed in with the more dramatic aspects. While the film definitely shows its age in its look, its fashions, and its soundtrack (courtesy of Wang Chung!) and it has no shortage of cop movie clichés littered throughout its running time, it moves along at a great pace, features some great performances and tells a really good story. As such, it may not have the staying power of something like The French Connection but it’s still a rock solid thriller that’s very much worth your time.
To Live And Die In L.A. looks good in this AVC encoded 1080p 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Detail is definitely stronger than it was on standard definition and texture is more obvious throughout, though nothing here ever approaches reference quality. As far as color reproduction goes, the film often looks ‘hot’ in that Friedkin has used a lot of orange and red tones throughout the movie, but this is replicated well here. That said, nothing really leaps off the screen at you the way certain Blu-ray transfers can. Skin tones look decent though black levels vary throughout playback with some indoor scenes looking a bit crushed. There isn’t much in the way of heavy print damage though a healthy coat of grain is obvious. Thankfully the transfer appears to be free of any obvious edge enhancement or compression artifacts. All in all, the movie looks good here.
Audio options are supplied in an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track as well as in standard definition Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French and Spanish while subtitles are provided in English, Spanish, Korean and Chinese. The synth-heavy score from Wang Chung has plenty of bounce here and at times gets pretty loud in the mix but somehow the low end winds up just a little weaker than it probably should have been. While there are plenty of instances of very clever and succinct surround usage, gun shots lack a low end punch. The car chase sequence sounds pretty good, however, while dialogue stays clear and is always easy to follow. There aren’t any problems with hiss or distortion to report and for a movie made a quarter century ago, overall it sounds better than most will probably expect.
Fox has released To Live And Die In L.A. as a two disc set – the first disc is the Blu-ray and as far as extra features go, it contains only the film’s theatrical trailer (in HD), menus and chapter stops. The second disc is the special edition standard definition DVD release that came out a few years ago. Here you’ll find a featurette called Counterfeit World: The Making of To Live and Die in L.A. (29:51) which includes interviews with the principal cast and crew members, some production photos, outtakes and other behind the scenes clips. It’s pretty solid stuff and serves as a good overview of the film. There’s also an Alternate Ending Featurette (8:40), a Deleted Scene Featurette (4:26), and a Still Gallery. The Alternate Ending and the Deleted Scene are also available to watch on their own. The film is included in standard definition and available alongside it is Friedkin’s commentary, which is pretty decent, making it all the more irritating that you can’t watch it over the HD version of the movie. Menus and chapter stops are included and all of the extras on the second disc are in standard definition.
The Final Word:
It really would have been nice to see the extras ported over to the Blu-ray disc (the commentary at the very least), but at least they’re here. That complaint aside, Fox has done a pretty solid job bringing Friedkin’s 80s thriller to Blu-ray. The movie may be dated in terms of its look, its sound and its feel but the performances, the storyline and the action scenes all hold up quite well making this one easy to recommend.