To Live and Die In L.A. (Blu-ray)
It didn’t take long to realize that something was seriously off with William Friedkin’s TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. After the quick, somewhat worthless, initial “action” scene, we dive into the opening credits. It’s important to set the mood here, so imagine you’re watching a dark, gritty crime drama in the vein of DIRTY HARRY or BULLIT and then these hot pink and neon green credits flash on the screen that feel more like something you’d see in a cheesy 80’s comedy. Then add in an even cheesier, bad 80’s pop song that you’ve never heard before and your mind is instantly fighting what your eyes are seeing. All of this from the same guy that brought us THE FRENCH CONNECTION?
The premise of the film is tried and true; after his partner is gunned down two days before retirement, Richard Chance (William Peterson) sets out to hunt down Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe), the man that killed his partner. John Vukovich (John Pankow) is an uninitiated agent that isn’t ready for the intensity that comes with working with Chance. The bad guys are really mean and the cops are pushing the edge of the law. They even had a pathetic girlfriend (Debra Feuer) that even the most anti-feminism people would have to be offended by. The basic storyline has been done many times before (by Friedkin, might I add) and hundreds of times since.
So the pressure is squarely on William Peterson to pull off the detective-pushed-to-the-edge motif and for Dafoe to pull off the bad-guy-with-no-morals cliché. I didn’t mind their characters and both actors did fine with their roles but Peterson lacked the charm and charisma necessary for me to get involved with his plight. There was also an attempt to make him a thrill seeker that needed more than him bungee jumping off a bridge and then flashing back to it during a car chase.
But if it wasn’t for the misuse of music, I could’ve chalked this up to just a dated movie with some holes. It wasn’t just the cheesy 80’s pop music, the background music felt like BEVERLY HILLS COP, not a gritty crime drama. I understand that the 80’s were famous for things like that, but in a film like this, it was just embarrassing. For that, I blame Friedkin. He should have known better and should have realized how out of place it was.
Aside from the horrible use of music and the lack of development with Richard Chance, the entire third act of the film failed. At the end, I was confused as to what kind of statement Friedkin was trying to make. Because the ending relied very heavily on John Vukovich, who was almost a forgotten character the first two acts. I understand the idea that even a weak cop that’s pushed to the edge can start to live recklessly, but if that’s what they were going for, we needed more focus on Vukovich that what we got. Instead, all the focus was on Chance and then his character never had any arc or resolution. The entire film featured poor editing and directing, which is disappointing given Friedkin’s previous works.
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1: You can’t be too hard on a studio for a weak transfer of a movie they knew wasn’t going to be flying off the shelves. That, and the film is 25 years-old at this point, so there are going to be some imperfections here and there. Overall though, it wasn’t for what it was.
Audio: The same holds true for the 5.1 DTS-HD audio track; it’s good, but not great. Of course, with the horrible 80’s music pounding through my head, I would have preferred no sound, but that’s a different story.
Okay, so it’s not like there’s a whole lot of special features here, but what’s frustrating is that they include everything on a separate disc. In fact, I’m betting that this is the exact DVD of the film. You can’t even watch the commentary in HD, you have to watch the whole film over again in standard definition. I don’t want to be a movie snob here, but there’s a reason I upgraded to Blu-ray.
Commentary with William Friedkin: Once I got past the idea of watching the move again in SD, I realized that Friedkin gives a good commentary to the film. I wanted more of an honest, open analysis of his movie, but he mainly sticks to talking about the shoot and the characters, etc.
Deleted Scene and Alternate Ending (13:06): Meh, I wouldn’t say that either of these were earth shattering. It was nice to have them included, but they didn’t change my opinion of the film.
Counterfeit world: The Making of To Live and Die in L.A. Documentary (29:52): This is a pretty standard making-of documentary, but sometimes documentaries on older films are better because of all the old footage. This one does a pretty good job of including interviews and some stock footage. It was informative and definitely worth the time if you’re a fan of the film.