To Live and Die in LA

Year: 1985
Production Co: SLM Production Company
Director: William Friedkin
Writer: William Friedkin/Gerard Petievich
Cast: Richard Chance, Willem Dafoe, John Turturro

I like to think William Friedkin is too good a director to direct a film so fatally rooted in the time it was made and thus so badly dated today. I prefer to think the lurid fashions, corny characterisations and New Romantics soundtrack were done as a kind of pastiche or satire, a vehicle to deliver a far deeper point about the line between heroes and villains.

The only thing that really convinces me he wanted to turn the genre on its head is the single bloody scene right near the end where a major character is unexpectedly blown away by a shotgun. There's no hero antics about being shot in the arm or leg and limping on to win the day. There isn't even a last gasp of 'two days to retirement'. In the blast of a gun and a shower of blood, all the leather jacket and rebel-without-a-cause cool is erased in a heartbeat and it's left up to a till-then minor character to save the day.

Maybe I'm wrong. The creative intent behind the film might be right there in the lurid, paintbrush-stroke title card, Wang Chung backing tracks and the 80s-man way hero Richard (William Petersen) treats his informer girlfriend.

He's actually a secret service agent even thought he behaves much like an off-duty cop, seeking revenge for the murder of his partner (who's just about to retire, in the immortal cliché).

The culprit is a slimy, icy counterfeiter (a ridiculously young-looking Dafoe), a villain who never seems very scary or dangerous. Richard's joined by a new partner who doesn't want to get swept up in the cross-the-line methods, but soon finds himself right there with Richard trying to pin guilt on the killer by any means necessary.

Maybe Friedkin just wanted to return to the amoral cop genre after having so much success with The French Connection. It was a new time, a new city, a new class of drugs and criminals and certainly a new design aesthetic. He just overdoes the design aesthetic so much it detracts from everything else about the movie.

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