The great Willem Dafoe is hitting theaters this week with the new Australian outing called "The Hunter," so we thought we’d take a gander at a past Dafoe ditty worth it’s weight in five-star flesh – welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick! This week’s selection is a personal favorite filled with corruption, murder and double crossing – and that just describes the good guys! The line between cops and criminals gets a bit blurry in the fantastic 1985 William Friedkin flick..."To Live And Die In L.A."
Secret Service agent Jimmy Hart is a man who has seen his fare share of the action. As an agent in the treasury department and having served on presidential detail as well, he has more than earned his upcoming retirement. Not to mention he’s saddled with thrill seeking partner Richard Chance, a young up and comer who lives life recklessly in the fast lane. Hart finishes off his last days trying to bring down a notorious counterfeiter named Rick Masters, a high priority on the most wanted list. Of course it ends badly and the ever-cocky Chance lays it out straight and simple – Masters is going down no matter what the cost.
The absence of duty and procedure amongst the protagonist of this piece is where the difference in the material lies. Friedkin has constructed a world of lies, deceit and corruption and it’s one where good and bad can be on the same side of a single coin. Chance and Masters, though seemingly on different sides of the law, have more in common then they think –both have a loose moral code. But there’s a real authenticity to Friedkin’s harrowing work here that is too real and arresting to ignore – and the Friedkin flavor is strong stuff.
His casting (Friedkin is an actor’s director after all!) is a pure example of finding early talent at its best, led by William “CSI” Peterson as rogue agent Chance in a piece of work so intense, yet so effortless it’s not hard to see why Peterson became a star. Plus there’s early John “Mad About You” Pankow as his new reluctant partner (his reactions during the car chase are pure dramatic gold!), Willem “Wild At Heart” Dafoe as slimy-as-they-get counterfeiter Rick Masters, John “Barton Fink” Turturro as a local Masters courier, Dean “Blue Velvet” Stockwell as his flippant lawyer and a nice turn by a young Darlanne “Running Scared” Fluegel as Chance’s snitch/love interest.
But Friedkin is also a master of both style and visual flair and "To Live And Die In L.A." does not disappoint. There’s a somber tone set by the moody music of Wang Chang (their best work bar none!), style via Friedkin’s colorful shots (the sequence where Dafoe reveals through breath money imprint on metallic paper is pure visual candy!) and even some added killer car chase tension thrown in for good measure. As if trying to outdo the legendary vehicle work he made famous in "The French Connection," Friedkin pumps up the wattage here and it’s by far the best car chase ever filmed. In a single sequence that never lets up, our tainted heroes are forced to battle armed gunmen, multiple cars, fast moving trains and even going the wrong way down a crowded highway to escape death – it’s a sight to see.
"To Live And Die In L.A." is the kind of film that would never be made now, as studios nowadays like their good guys and bad guys clearly defined for what they perceive as the mindless movie going masses. But thankfully here everyone has a pinch of all of the above and it’s what makes the work so uniquely dangerous – safe is nowhere to be found in the world of Friedkin.