To Live and Die in L.A.


Year 1985

William L. Petersen  as  Richard Chance
Willem Dafoe as Eric Masters
John Pankow as John Vukovich
Debra Feuer as Bianca Torres
John Turturro as Carl Cody
Dean Stockwell as Bob Grimes
Michael Greene as Jim Hart
 
Director - William Friedkin
Screenwriters - William Friedkin
  - Gerald Petievich   

I wasn't sure if this one belonged on the "At Least Once" list because there are a couple of things wrong with it. But, as I wrote the commentary, the depth of the movie and its attention to detail struck me time and time again. It has to be here.

A ruthless counterfeiter, Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe), kills U.S. Secret Service agent Jim Hart (Michael Greene). Hart's partner, Richard Chance (William L. Petersen), vows revenge at any cost. Brought along into this at-any-cost tale is new partner John Vukovich (John Pankow).

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. Part of it can be summed up as William Petersen. Even though I can't imagine this movie without him, he's just not 100% convincing. Maybe he's too deadpan. Maybe he's too laid back to pretend that he's a man "on the edge".

He's not a bad actor. But for this role, he's just not a very good choice.

The only other bad thing was the music. It's dated. In the end, it sort of fit though, like William Peterson.

Now for a little back story. The scandal of this movie is that the Treasury Department tried to stop its release because of the accuracy of the detail of the counterfeiting operation. The writers knew their stuff.

That little side story should give you an idea of the type of detail you can expect from this gritty little film. No one in the movie is nice, except Bateman, ironcally played by Robert Downey, Sr.   Masters is a calculating sociopath, Chance is nearly as bad, and Vukovich is spineless for most of the movie.

But the scenes are great, the plot holds together, and there are enough tragedies of errors to make it intriguing. The downside is that the movie is dated. Some of the dialogue and music is definitely 1980s. In the 1990s, this stood out like a sore thumb. Into the 2000s, it's retro-contemporary (Okay, I just made up a word) and it's not only alright, it's now a plus.

How about some scenes?

And that's not half of them. There's a really good chase scene in the movie. But, as good as it is, and it is good, it's not as memorable as most of the other scenes.

And then there's Vukovich. Despite every other thing good about the movie, it is this character's gradual changes that turn this movie into something that's a cut above. Without Vukovich, this movie's an empty melodrama. With Vukovich, it's a nihilistic tale of predetermism.

Check out the extras on the special edition of this DVD. The alternate ending is enough to make you understand what movies have become. No one says "No" anymore to the sort of tripe that almost ended this careful, thoughful, detail oriented story.

There's also a deleted scene. Even though it seemed out of place because there's no build up to it, it's a well acted scene and manages to make Vukovich both a less and more sympathetic character at the same time.

Yeah, it holds up well. This one may even be a "More Than Once" contender.


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