To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
An underrated 80s crime thriller, this was supposed to be William Friedkin’s comeback after making some duds in the late 70s and early 80s. I say supposed to be because he really never made anything great ever again. And this is the guy who gave us one of the best horror movies (The Exorcist) and one of the best buddy-cop movies (The French Connection). But To Live and Die in L.A. has a lot more to do with The French Connection including a top-notch car chase.
Back in 85, this film did moderately well but is more of a cult classic now. Partially the problem is the cast, which at the time were relative unknowns like William Peterson, Willem Dafoe and John Turturro. I only knew of this film because of my interest in the Wang Chung song. But it’s basically a west coast French Connection with two buddy cops trying to nab counterfeiters. It’s a well made crime thriller and well worth your time if you like Miami Vice-style cop flicks.
But let’s cut to the chase. What’s most unique about this chase is instead of the good guys pursuing the criminals, it’s reversed with the two cops being hunted by the counterfeiters after Peterson and his partner rob one of them. (Although this YouTube clip makes it look like an Asian man is getting gay raped at gunpoint) Most of the chase is generic-driving through back alleys and of course, no film set in L.A. can’t be made without having a scene in the empty L.A. river duct, so there’s that as well. Some great P.O.V. shots as well as dumb dialogue to other drivers (“Get out of the way!”) but what sets this apart from most car chases of the time is the driving on the wrong way on the freeway. At this point Peterson and partner are not being pursed by the criminals (on screen anyway) but are racing and swerving for their lives, causing much damage and pandemonium along the way. His partner, played by John Pankow, looks incredibly stressed and that wasn’t acting as both actors were actually in the car while this stunt and chase actually happened.
It’s too bad that William Peterson didn’t make more movies like this. He was in two great crime thrillers in the 80s, this and Manhunter and then he fell into relative obscurity until his star-making turn in CSI. But he’s an actor with an intensity despite his rugged good looks which makes him a great anti-hero or a troubled and tormented cop which he played in both Manhunter and To Live and Die in L.A. Like I said, this is a great flick and should be seen and talked about more often.