Tuesday, July 09, 2013

TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (1985) -
William Friedkin

Watching The French Connection and To Live and Die in L.A. back to back, you can't avoid being steamrolled by the similarities. Reckless, obsessive lawmen (Hackman/Petersen). Exotic villains (Fernando Rey/Willem Dafoe). Scrupulous directorial attention to the details of an illegal trade (heroin smuggling/counterfeiting). Car chases that exploit the geography of the selected city. A second banana who's unsure of his partner's motives/morality (Roy Scheider/John Pankow). Music that underscores the tension (Don Ellis jazz and...um...Wang Chung). It's hard not to view To Live and Die in L.A. as The French Connection fifteen years later, a very similar film transplanted to the West Coast and given a coat of '80s high-gloss hot pink paint. For all intents and purposes, it's The L.A. Connection, and I'm guessing Friedkin would even admit to that. It's purposely derivative, a movie made in dialogue with his previous masterpiece. New York cops and Los Angeles secret service...the two of them have much to discuss.

But is it as good? Not quite. I've come to appreciate To Live and Die in L.A. more over the years. Friedkin adds some sex and several beautiful women to the mix (Connection was practically lady-free). They tend to use the obsessive men they're sleeping with who, in turn, are using them. Despite it being the "lesser coast," Friedkin chose a few fantastic "New York actors" to fill his bad guy roles-- Willem Dafoe and John Turturro, both phenomenal here. The wrong way down the highway chase is inspired, even if falling a few notches on the Great Movie Chase Scenes List behind Bullitt and Connection. Petersen getting shot and "replaced" by his partner Pankow is a daring and effective structural move and makes for a nice existential coda. As for the Wang Chung? Yeah. Hate to say it, but even that's growing on me too.

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