William Friedkin's 1985 action grinder To Live And Die In L.A. is part of a loose trilogy that includes the 1971 Oscar-winner The French Connection and 2003's polished gem The Hunted. All three are tough movies about urban pursuit, in which motion and location take precedence over plot and character. Not that To Live And Die In L.A. lacks for story. William Petersen plays a risk-taking U.S. Secret Service agent tracking master counterfeiter Willem Dafoe, a sexually ambiguous villain who dabbles in decadent modern art. John Pankow plays Petersen's straight-arrow new partner, who grudgingly goes along with his colleague's ethically loose swipes at Dafoe, until Petersen begins planning a real heist to raise funds for an undercover buy, at which point Pankow rightly speculates that it might be easier to abandon all codes and just assassinate the bad guy. Friedkin adapts Gerald Petievich's novel with his usual eye for the details of crime and violence–the counterfeiting sequences are as fascinating as the car chases–and the film is laced with pungent dialogue. (Petersen dismisses his money-grubbing girlfriend by snapping, "You want bread, fuck a baker," and when Dafoe asks incarcerated henchman John Turturro how he's getting along, Turturro answers, "Like every other swingin' dick in here makes it… day by motherfuckin' day.") Live And Die even includes the original buddy-cop cliché: an officer with three days to go until retirement muttering, "I'm getting too old for this shit," just before catching a bullet. The salty talk and amoral action is enhanced by Friedkin's bent toward documentary realism, aided by skilled guerrilla cinematographer Robby Müller. Live And Die can't fully escape its '80s-ness, from the Miami Vice-inspired color scheme to the pervasive (and not half-bad) Wang Chung soundtrack. But Friedkin's methods make '80s Los Angeles as vivid as '70s New York is in The French Connection. The movie opens with outtakes of a Ronald Reagan policy speech and a tussle with an Islamic terrorist, and its vision of L.A. includes actual working-class neighborhoods coated with actual gang graffiti. On the DVD's insightful commentary track and featurettes, Friedkin says the story addresses "a counterfeit world," a theme revealed through what the characters do as much as through what they say. His heroes are liars, his shootouts are messy, and the film's recurring visual motif is people getting shot in the face, an explicit image of human vanity and duplicity obliterated.
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