Thursday, January 03, 2013

To Live and Die in L.A.

Based on the novel by Gerald Petievich, To Live and Die in L.A. is about two Secret Service agents trying to find a counterfeiter at any cost. Directed by William Friedkin and screenplay by Friedkin and Petievich, the film is a thriller that explores the complexities of two men doing whatever it takes to nab a criminal where they would question their own tactics. Starring William Petersen, John Pankow, Darlanne Fluegel, John Turturro, Dean Stockwell, Debra Feuer, and Willem Dafoe. To Live and Die in L.A. is an entrancing yet thrilling film from William Friedkin.

After the death of his partner Jimmy Hart (Michael Greene) who was a few days from retiring just as he was trying to uncover a counterfeit scheme. Secret Service agent Richard Chance (William Petersen) is determined to avenge Hart’s death by going after the notorious counterfeiter/artist in Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe) whose methods are considered legendary. With Chance given a new partner in John Vukovich (John Pankow), the two stake out across from the home of an attorney in Max Waxman (Christopher Allport) where they didn’t see Masters kill Waxman as Chance manages to take a small pocketbook of Waxman to find who he’s connected to. With the help of his informant Ruth (Darlanne Fluegel), Chance goes into deep into what kind of work Masters is doing as he had tried to get a hit put on his friend Carl Cody (John Turturro) whom Chance had just put in prison.

Vukovich secretly meets with Masters’ attorney Bob Grimes (Dean Stockwell) who organizes a deal for Vukovich and Chance to see Masters about deal as they pretend to be different men. A deal is made but Masters wants $30,000 for his work as it would prove to be difficult as Chance and Vukovich try to figure out how to get the money. Through Ruth’s information, Chance decides to rob from a Chinese man named Ling (Michael Chong) who is interested in buying $50,000 worth of diamonds. During the robbery, things go wrong when Chance and Vukovich realizes that something didn’t go right even though they got the money. Chance’s tactics hope it will make a deal with Masters in the hopes to bust him yet Vukovich becomes uneasy about everything that has transpired.

The film is about a Secret Service agent and his new partner trying to go after a counterfeiter by any means necessary where their tactics become questionable as they take on major risks for themselves and those going after this counterfeiter. The film is also a revenge story of sorts since it is about this agent trying to get revenge for the death of his old partner who is definitely intent on wanting to kill the man who did this and put him down. Yet, it would cause a lot of conflict to those around this man including his superiors and new partner who wants to do things by the book and not get into any kind of trouble.

The screenplay by William Friedkin and novelist Gerald Petievich is very complex in the way it explores the tactics of one man and how he is obsessed with trying to capture this criminal who definitely operates in his own way. Richard Chance is this very unconventional Secret Service agent who is willing to do anything to capture someone where will also break rules in the process. This would often get the ire of his superiors yet he gets the job done. When it comes to this assignment to capture this counterfeiter who killed his partner, Chance becomes more unhinged as the story progresses where he does things that are unconventional like the fact that he sleeps with his informant and often blackmails her to do things or else she breaks her parole. Yet, he is also quite reckless where he will do stupid things such as believe a criminal’s words as he will admit that it was his own fault as he would do whatever to make up for that mistake.

Rick Masters is definitely a criminal who is very unique in his own way. He is an artists who likes to paint and then burn his paintings while he goes into great care into forging $20 bills in order to use it for his own criminal means. He knows that he couldn’t use $50 or $100 bills to do things as it would be too suspicious as he often lurks around in the underworld. He also goes into clubs where he has a girlfriend (Debra Feuer) around to aid him in a few of his things while he’s also ensuring that if there’s a problem. He’ll take care of it or let someone else do it. Then there’s John Vukovich who is a more straight-laced officer that is forced to see the kind of things that Chance does where he becomes anguished over what to do as he would turn to a lawyer who is also working for Masters. Things eventually become complicated as it would involve a showdown.

Friedkin’s direction is definitely engaging for the way he presents the film as it is shot on location in Los Angeles and nearby areas where it has this degree of style to its look and setting. It’s flashy but also very gritty in some of its locations where Friedkin does make Los Angeles a character in the film. Notably as Friedkin shoots a lot of scenes at night, in the evening, or at dawn where it adds to this element of style where it’s a place that is unsettling but also exciting. Friedkin creates a lot of unique compositions to help play out the suspense with some slow, methodical movements with the camera along with more intense-driven moments such as a chase inside the airport or a frenetic car-chase scene through the L.A. river.

The direction also have Friedkin explore the two different worlds between an agent and a criminal as it does have similarities to his 1971 film The French Connection. This time around, it’s not a battle of wits but rather a cat-and-mouse game of sorts with a revenge angle into the mix. Friedkin takes great time to reveal the two different lifestyles of Chance and Masters where the latter definitely surrounds himself in a very private world where he goes all over the place while Chance is more grounded in the streets. The eventual showdown is quite unexpected as Friedkin also takes more of a grimy approach towards the violence. Overall, Friedkin creates a mesmerizing and eerie crime film that explores the complexities of vengeance and power.

Cinematographer Robby Muller does brilliant work with the film‘s stylish photography from some wonderful shots of daytime exterior and interior settings to more stylish looks at night including the use of colored lights to set the mood for those scenes while second-unit photographer Robert D. Yeomen shot the scenes in the chase scene. Editor M. Scott Smith does excellent work with the editing from the intensity of the chase scenes to the more methodical cutting style in its suspenseful moments. Production designer Lilly Kilvert, along with set decorator Cricket Rowland and art director Buddy Cone, does nice work with the set pieces from the studio where Masters works at to the look of some of the locations in Los Angeles.

Costume designer Linda M. Bass does wonderful work with the costumes from the more rugged look of Chance to the more stylish clothes of Masters who always wear dark colors. Sound recorders Jean-Louis Ducarme and Rodger Pardee do superb work with the sound to capture the chaos of the locations as well as the intimate moments in the conversations. The film’s music by Wang Chung is a major highlight of the film for its chilling synthesizer-driven music from some eerie ambient-like pieces to more upbeat new wave music that plays up to the energy as it proves that there’s a lot more to Wang Chung than Everybody Have Fun Tonight.

The casting by Robert Weiner is amazing for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small roles from Robert Downey Sr. as Chance’s superior Thomas Bateman, Michael Greene as Chance’s partner Jimmy Hart, Steve James as Masters’ street organizer Jeff Rice, Christopher Allport as the attorney Max Waxman, Michael Chong as the Asian man Chance and Vukovic kidnap, and Debra Feuer as Master’s girlfriend Bianca who would aid him in a few things. Dean Stockwell is terrific as Masters’ attorney Bob Grimes who secretly meets Vukovic about setting up a meeting while John Turturro is wonderful as Masters’ friend Carl Cody who gets himself in trouble while being aware that Masters might eliminate him. Darlanne Fluegel is excellent as Chance’s informer Ruth who reluctantly gives him information while feeling pushed about the power that he has.

John Pankow is great as the straight-laced John Vukovic who sees all of the things that Chance does in his line of work while becoming troubled by some of the things he encounters as he tries to maintain a grip between what should be done at any cost or to play by the rules. Willem Dafoe is fantastic as the very devious and secretive Rick Masters who is a man with a great sense of wit but also can be very cunning in his pursuits as it’s definitely one of Dafoe’s great performances. Finally, there’s William Petersen in a marvelous performance as Richard Chance where Petersen displays a sense of recklessness as well as unpredictability to a man who is determined to seek vengeance while doing things that would prove to be troubling.

To Live and Die in L.A. is an incredible film from William Friedkin featuring top-notch performances from William Petersen, John Pankow, and Willem Dafoe. The film is definitely one of the great crime thrillers of the genre as well as a very underrated film to come out of the 1980s. Featuring Robby Muller’s entrancing cinematography and superb music of Wang Chung, it’s a film that is definitely full of style and provides the audience something that is different from what is expected in the crime genre. In the end, To Live and Die in L.A. is a remarkable film from William Friedkin.

William Friedkin Films: (Good Time) - (The Birthday Party) - (The Night They Raided Minsky’s) - (The Boys in the Band) - The French Connection - The Exorcist - Sorcerer - (Brink’s Job) - Cruising - (Deal of the Century) - (Rampage (1987 film)) - (The Guardian (1990 film)) - (Blue Chips) - (Jailbreakers) - (Jade) - (12 Angry Men (1997 TV film)) - (Rules of Engagement) - (The Hunted (2003 film)) - Bug (2006 film) - Killer Joe

© thevoid99 2013

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