William Petersen's breakout role came in this bleak, winding thriller about U.S. Secret Service agents tracking a murderous counterfeiter.
Directed and co-written by William Friedkin, this movie seeks to one-up The French Connection's stark characters and wild chases, going so far as to take the gruff archetype of Popeye Doyle and make him into Petersen's agent, a brutal and amoral thug, perfectly happy to do whatever it takes to reach his goals.
Stylish to the point of being sued by Michael Mann for ripping off "Miami Vice", To Live And Die In L.A. is awash in the orange tones of a smoggy L.A. sunset and pumped up by a synth-laden Wang Chung score.
Not as action-packed as one might imagine, the movie is a bleak character drama, showing early promise for Petersen's future work in Manhunter and on "C.S.I." Instead, the film concentrates its energy on the build-up of reckless vengeance and thirst to destroy Willem Dafoe's villainous counterfeiter, one of Willem's more understated pieces of acting.
In their pursuit of the man, the Secret Service agents go well past the limit, ending in murder and death, the whole film climaxing in a spurt of violence, more death, and flames. The characters are shattered and their identities become nothing more than the counterfeit bills they sought out.
Friedkin apparently likened every relationship in the movie to that fake currency and it shines through in the soulless vessels inflicting pain on each other in a way that is both intriguing and detached.
An early hybrid of the stylized art film and the standard commercial release, the pacing and plotting of the movie rides the line of being intriguing and hypnotizing in its staid plodding way. But there are merits to the cold and very matter-of-fact story that plays out in this dour film and in its act of sudden and untrumpeted bloodletting.
At very least, the movie is an intriguing time capsule to one of the more interesting moments of the 80's.