Here’s one I haven’t watched in a long, long time. I’d almost forgotten how good it is. Almost! Somewhere in the back of my mind there’s a little voice telling me I saw this in the theater, but I honestly don’t remember. I might have, but I’m not sure, so don’t hold it against me. What I do remember though, is that the Swedish censors put their sharp and unjust scissors to work on it. Granted they didn’t cut much, but not much, was still too much in my opinion. It made the ending a tad confusing.
To Live and Die in L.A. is a dark and taut action-thriller set in the world of counterfeiting. Richard Chance and Jimmy Hart are two U.S. Secret Service agents who’ve been after one particular counterfeiter, by the name of Eric Masters, for a very long time.
With only a couple of days left to his retirement, Jimmy follows up a tip by himself and is brutally gunned down by Masters and his bodyguard. When his body is found in a dumpster, his partner Chance vows to nail Masters no matter what it takes. He’s a fearless agent with base- and bungy-jumping as his hobbies. It’s almost like he lives for the rush, both in his spare time and also in his job.
This makes him very effective at what he does, but it also makes him kind of dangerous for the people around him. He’s actually a bit of a douche-bag who has no empathy for anyone. He treats his “girlfriend” Ruth as crap and only keeps her around for sex and information. She’s a parolee/informant and Chance makes it perfectly clear that if she stops giving him information, he’ll have her parole revoked. Her feelings for him are a bit more real, but the movie never really lingers too much on it, but she’s actually the only likeable person here. You kind of feel sorry for her because she’s exploited by both sides of the law and can’t seem to catch a break.
Chance is played fantastically well by William Petersen in his first major part. Most of you will recognize him as Grissom from the hit TV-show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, but he was also in Young Guns II and Manhunter to mention a couple of titles. I’ve talked about Manhunter in an earlier review and Mr. Petersen does a remarkable job in that one too.
Ruth is portrayed by the beautiful Darlanne Fluegel from Lock Up and Running Scared, for instance, where she stars opposite Sylvester Stallone in one and Billy Crystal in the other.
In order to get closer to Masters, Chance and his new partner John Vukovich, played by John Pankow (The Secret of My Success, Monkey Shines), poses as buyers from Palm Springs and wants him to print one million dollars in fake bills for them. He reluctantly agrees and wants thirty thousand dollars up front for them. This is twenty thousand more than they can legally obtain from the office, so Chance comes up with a daring plan to get the cash elsewhere.
Ruth has given him a tip earlier about a man who’s arriving with a large sum of money to buy stolen diamonds. Chance and Vukovich kidnaps him and steals the cash, but during this heist, things go terribly wrong and the guy ends up dead… shot by heavily armed men who now go after the two agents.
After a nerve-wrecking and awesome car-chase they narrowly escape with the cash. Vukovich is wrought with guilt, but Chance couldn’t care less because he now has the means to set up a meeting with Masters, so he can finally bust him.
Eric Masters is played by none other than Willem Dafoe. I know you know of him, but I’ll give you a couple of titles anyway… How about Streets of Fire, Shadow of the Vampire and Platoon? It’s always a treat to watch Mr. Dafoe on screen! You have to hand it to him, but he does this type of character very well.
Masters is a man who takes no risks and covers his tracks very well, so he knows they can’t really get to him. This makes him a bit over-confident and arrogant at times, but hey… he’s good at what he does! Btw? In the scene where we see him making money, Willem Dafoe was actually making money.
The director, William Friedkin (The French Connection, Sorcerer, The Exorcist), wanted accuracy so he hired the help of actual counterfeiters to lend the scene some authenticity. They even printed on both sides of the paper which is illegal, but the bills did have three (I think) deliberate mistakes on them so they couldn’t be used outside of the movie. The fake money was burnt afterwards, but unfortunately some of it leaked out into the streets which lead to Friedkin being approached by the F.B.I. about it. Oops!
To Live and Die in L.A. has a great cast and apart from the ones I’ve already mentioned we also see the awesome John Turturro (O Brother Where Art Thou?, Barton Fink, Miller’s Crossing) as Cody, as one of Masters’ couriers.
And as Masters’ lawyer, Bob Grimes, you’ll probably recognize Dean Stockwell, an actor with close to 200 titles to his name, like Blue Velvet, Beverly Hills Cop II and the TV-show Quantum Leap. Also, Steve James from The Exterminator and Behind Enemy Lines has a small part as a thug hired by Masters to kill Cody, whom he thinks has double-crossed him.
As I stated at the start of this review, I like this flick. It’s gritty, taut and a bit cynical. Even the ending is a dark one, but don’t let that sway you from watching it. You will not be disappointed!
To Live and Die in L.A. is a great action-thriller and the car-chase alone is worth your while.
So until next time, my friends… The comment section is all yours!