To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
Directed by William Friedkin
Written by Gerald Petievich, William Friedkin
Produced by Irving H. Levin, Bud S. Smith, Samuel Schulman
Starring William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, Debra Feuer, Darlanne Fluegel, John Turturro, Dean Stockwell, Michael Greene
Multitudinous minor mistakes mar this energetic thriller of a gutsy Secret Service agent’s (Petersen) endeavor to apprehend a truculent counterfeiter (Dafoe) by means licit and otherwise. Friedkin proved himself as technically adept as ever during his unwarranted losing streak, sustaining his reputation as a rival to Peckinpah by his virtuoso implementation of chase scenes afoot — as Petersen and his relatively trepid partner (Pankow) pursue a wily bagman (Turturro) in LAX and other abettors in alleys and bridges — and automotive in collaboration with stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker, as they evade unidentified assailants through one of L.A.’s sprawling industrial districts in a breathless sequence shot with dash to match his famed train chase in The French Connection. So too does the New Hollywood veteran put his players through their paces: Petersen’s mesmerizing machismo’s countered impressively by Dafoe’s discomfiting introspection as unscrupulous opponents whose disregard for integrity and unflinching persistence steel them to contend with manifold threats and incumbrances. As the forger’s attorney, Stockwell’s gravitas serves as ballast for the more dynamic personalities at play, and Feuer and Fluegel shine sultrily as Dafoe’s terpsichorean girlfriend and Petersen’s informant and periodic slam piece. As vibrantly as those of his collaborations with Wenders, Robby Mueller’s photography of grimy Angelean streets and Lilly Kilvert’s chic interiors provides an eyeful in every shot; keenly paired with Jerry Trent’s and Sam Crutcher’s crisp foley, snappy editing by Scott Smith and Wang Chung’s percussive cuts, Friedkin sustains momentum splendidly, as during a titular montage introducing key characters and locales and a brilliantly rendered sequence demonstrating the exacting fabrication of sham cash antedating digital methods. Alas, so many great scenes are bookended by a gawky duad: otherwise sharply executed, a prologue during which Petersen and his senior partner (Greene) frustrate the designs of a Palestinian terrorist lapses at its culmination into a clumsy clinker akin to something shot by one of Golan Globus’ star directors and butchered in post-production; ulterior to a fiery climax, Pankow’s agent assumes his partner’s role and temperament to enliven a disappointing denouement wherein Friedkin fails to effect a profound transposition of identity, a flub doubly dreadful in contrast to the equivocal masterstroke with which Cruising was concluded. Furthermore, Petievich and Friedkin’s dialogue too often veers from snappy style to footling fustian — a fault one might rightly impute to scripts by Michael Mann, whose idiom influenced this pic, and who directed Petersen just so well as a heterogeneous investigator in Manhunter a year later.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Thief.

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