To Live and Die in L.A. review by Matt Fuerst


Most of us work a Regular Joe 9 to 5 job. We go in, have some coffee, occasionally eat a donut, and when we're feeling risky take the hour plus lunch or get our oil changed leisurely. Not many of us are really plugged into the criminal underground, which is someplace that films can take us, without the risk of being shot in the face or swimming with the fishes. I really enjoy it when caper movies treat you like you have half a brain cell and show you some interesting aspects of the criminal world, the technology behind the crimes, the procedures criminals follow, the ramifications thereof. There have been a number of good movies in recent years with this aspect, The Score, Heat, Ronin pop to mind immediately. All very enjoyable (and all not-so-coincidentally starring Robert DeNiro I notice). To Live and Die in L.A. gives us a great look inside the world of counterfeiting. I imagine a lot of these procedures have changed with the advent of the desktop computer, desktop publishing and even desktop color laser printers at 1200 and 2400 dpi costing less than what most people have in their checking accounts. This doesn't make it any less fascinating however.

Richard Chance (William Petersen) is a Secret Service agent working in LA on the counterfeit squad. His partner is 3 days until retirement when he is killed investigating master counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem DaFoe). Chance finds his partners body and sets off on a mission to personally put Masters behind bars. Chance first tries to get masters through one of his couriers, Carl Cody (a young John Turturro). Cody refuses to flip over on Masters, so Chance has to go back to the drawing board. Chance finally has a breakthrough when Masters attorney (Dean Stockwell) comes to him in fear. He offers to set up a meeting between Chance, his new partner John Vukovich (John Pankow) and Masters. Chance is finally close enough to Masters to shake his hand, yet at the same time he still doesn't have any evidence on Masters and is going to have trouble getting it through all the bureaucracy of the Secret Service.

The negatives: My overall enjoyment of To Live and Die in L.A. was above average but there sure were some lulls in it. For example there are probably 45 minutes between Chance capturing Carl Cody and the meeting with his lawyer, but I forget completely what happened in that time period. Oh, I remember some of it, Chance boffs an informant, Masters attends an 80's inspired interpretive dance session, a small subplot of a Masters courier who ripped him off is closed up, but none of these subplots really add little to the films main plot. I'm all for adding richness and actual depth to characters, but maybe this middle portion strayed a bit far from the main plot of the film. My other complain along the same lines is the unnecessarily long car chase. Call me a party pooper, the car chase scene has never grabbed me and I found this one to be similarly uninspired. Especially since half of it is a slow chase through a shipping yard. But this was directed by Friedkin, who was known for car chases after The French Connection, so I understand why it was thrown in, I just didn't appreciate it. The prologue, completely unrelated to the Masters/Chance duel, ends with a hilariously bad optical special effect. I seriously wondered if we were supposed to think that it was a dream sequence or something since it was so poorly done no one could have bought it as true, even in 1985.

The good: The scenes with Masters counterfeiting money were some of the most detailed segments I have ever seen in a film. I greatly enjoyed this portion as we see Masters do lots of things I can't even properly describe, but it was quite fascinating. As I said before I am certain a lot of these techniques have gone out the window with the advent of the high quality personal computers, but I'm sure there's still the old school guys chopping Jacksons off of a printing press. Far and away however, the best part of the movie was the soundtrack. Completely stellar, completely 80's. The flick starts out with some rockin' keyboard synth action, and then the credit scrolls up on the screen.... Original Music by: Wang Chung. Marvelous. You'll notice and hum along with half the songs if you're paying attention. I was dancing in my living room in a pair of leg warmers that I had hidden in my attic. I just needed a big arc welder to really feel at home. I really like William Petersen in everything before his CSI appearance, and he did a great job in this as well. Friedkin presents some pretty unflinching, uncut violence as well, which was well done. He makes up for the horrific optical effects with some good makeup and squib work, I'll give him some big thumbs up for that.

To Live and Die in L.A. is undoubtedly a good movie. It breaks the mold of a traditional cop movie with it's hardboiled, unflinching attitude and yet still tells a fairly traditional tale. All the characters are very well developed, and we get all the greatness of the 80's in the form of a rockin' score, greed and materialism, casual lesbianism and guys shooting big guns at each other. God bless America.

6 out of 10 Jackasses
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