Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Essential Cinema - 44

To Live And Die In L.A.

William Petersen... Richard Chance (as William L. Petersen)
Willem Dafoe... Eric 'Rick' Masters
John Pankow... John Vukovich
Debra Feuer... Bianca Torres
John Turturro... Carl Cody
Darlanne Fluegel... Ruth Lanier
Dean Stockwell... Bob Grimes

William Friedkin

Gerald Petievich (novel)
William Friedkin (screenplay) &
Gerald Petievich (screenplay)

Robby Müller (director of photography) (as Robby Muller)

A secret service agent will stop at nothing to take down the counterfeiter that murdered his former partner.

Obsessions are not good things, because there is always someone else that has more of an obsession than you do. With that in mind, you really can't trust anyone.

There were two films that came out during my teen years that had a sort of mystic about them. One was "Solyent Green" in which Charlton Heston fights a battle to expose a government run fast food franchise as corporate cannibalism, and the other was "To Live And Die In L.A." This film was controversial, because it basically shows the viewer how to counterfeit money. There is a scene that is almost a tutorial on how to do it early on in the film. McDonald's didn't really care to have fast food portrayed as cannibalism and the Federal Government wasn't to happy about teaching people how to make fake money. Ergo, these two films were somewhat 'suppressed' and not easy to find at Blockbuster or Hollywood Video.

Now that money has changed and is much harder to duplicate outside a U.S. Mint, this film doesn't quite have the aura of taboo that it once had. This is a bad-boy police drama in the genre of Miami Vice, with all the trappings of the 80s. Big hair, loud clothes and a gritty urban realism that shows society has run amok.

The cast of characters is interesting to watch. A very young William Peterson long before his stint on C.S.I. and a lecherous Dean Stockwell as an attorney for which the law is only a matter of making money regardless of the legality. The standout in the cast is Willem DeFoe, whose artistic and tortured counterfeiter is edgy, manic, manipulative and cunning. The role of John Turturro as a mule captured by the Feds is interesting to watch but does nothing for the plot, which had me somewhat puzzled.

The cinematography and music in this film are good if not a bit dated by today's standards. This film is a period piece today although it was not meant to be when it was shot. L.A. is painted as a dirty, chaotic jungle that is urban and industrial with little nature or beauty. After watching the film I was humming the songs by Wang Chung for the next 2 days. It is infectious music and adds considerably to the look and feel of the film.

In the end, the one good cop in the film comes to realize that everyone is using everyone else for their own personal gain, and succumbs to the addiction as well. Not a very uplifting film in the end, but entertaining to watch, since you have no idea where it is going until it is over.

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