Friday Review: To Live and Die in L.A.

A while back I was reviewing books and movies on my blog. For no reason at all I stopped doing so. But now we have a new category thing: Friday Review. Let me explain.

I read 2-3 books per week. I also watch a lot of movies and TV shows. Because of the nature of my job I don’t get out too much. And my imaginary friend, Adrian, doesn’t like to be bothered too often, so I have no one to recommend all these movies and books to. That’s why every Friday I’ll review a book or a movie or a TV show. I’ll choose the ones that I’ve liked most (and the ones I think you’ll like as well) and tell you about the good parts and the bad parts. So they’re more like recommendations than reviews. Anyway, I don’t get paid for these reviews, so they’re not advertorials or anything.

Today I’m going to recommend a thriller.

To Live and Die in L.A. , a 1985 movie based on the eponymous novel written by Gerald Petievich, tells the story of two secret agents, Richard Change ( William Peterse) and John Vukovich (John Pankow), as they attempt to arrest Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe), who’s probably the reason why I loved this movie. Dafoe’s character, basically a counterfeiter, is just smart and evil enough to make the movie worthwhile.

Even though produced on a modest budget – none of the actors were big stars at the time – William Friedkin’s film has been well received by critics.

To Live and Die in L.A. centers around topics such as vengeance, corruption, power. Richard Change often considers himself to be above the law, and, toward the end, above life and death. There’s a fine line between justice and revenge, and this movie does a fine job at showing the difference.

The best is that it’s all believable. There are no exaggerations, no action scenes and special effects that defy the laws of physics.

This one’s a quality thriller which builds momentum mostly through dialogue. At the same time, it does a terrific job at maintaining that momentum throughout the entire length of the movie – the situations build upon one another in a natural, organic way.

The ending is most rewarding, mostly because, like the rest of the movie, feels real. Vukovich isn’t proclaimed a hero – his merits aren’t rewarded or acknowledged.

To Live and Die in L.A. is well worth seeing. It’s got enough death and blood, while delivering a strong message. It’s also got this car chase… fantastic.


43 comments on “Friday Review: To Live and Die in L.A.

  1. […] Friday Review: To Live and Die in L.A.. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  2. fransiweinstein says:

    I love Willem Dafoe. Weird enough to be really interesting.

  3. Wow, Good Mention, Dude. I Haven't Seen This One In Years And Years And Years. It's Another I'll Have To Add To My Rental List. Hell, I May Just End-Up Buying It. I Remember Liking It Enough To Own It hehehe


  4. Your are hilarious. We should introduce our imaginary friends to each other. My friends name is Shadow. LOL

  5. Miss Beretta says:

    "And my imaginary friend, Adrian, doesn't like to be bothered too often". That nearly killed me as I choked on my tea with laughter!

  6. Sariyd says:

    Great, albeit relatively unknown movie. I love how Friedkin creates the mood of a scene and maintains tension so taut you feel yourself stretched beyond the level of discomfort. 'The Exorcist' is another great example of how he does it. Great choice!

  7. Thanks for the review Cristian – I just love a good thriller.

  8. A Dog With Fleas says:

    Thanks for the review and the recommendation. Another movie I'll have to add to my growing list of movies I need to see.

  9. Totally dig this picture – great recommendation!

  10. One of my favorite movies from the 80's.

  11. texydeb says:

    This is the first time I ever saw Willem Dafoe and fell hard for him and this movie. :P It is a movie that has stuck with me. I often tell people that this is a must see.

  12. A very nice review even though I don't care for thrillers. You have done a great job here.

  13. crzydjm says:

    You had me at "Friday Review". :-)

  14. Great post, I enjoyed the read!

  15. dex says:

    You had me at Willem Dafoe. I'll have to check this out.

  16. Always liked this movie, but for William Petersen's performance as a flawed cop. Dafoe is, however, so evil that he's a great foil.

  17. Kim says:

    Adrian. Ha! Nice!

  18. MishaBurnett says:

    One of my favorite films, actually, mostly because of the way the plot works out–the writer breaks some major rules of the Action Movie genre (I won't say more because of spoilers) and gets away with it.

  19. kelihasablog says:

    I've always loved Willem Dafoe too. This is nice because it will give me books to put on my list. I usually get through 2, sometimes 3 a week…. depending on how well my parents behave (they're 82 & 97) and I'm the one who spends time with them listening to the same stories (ALZ) over and over again. My mom isn't so bad, but she' ill & I try to help keep my step-dad occupied.

    Have you read No Easy Day (written by the 2nd guy in the room on the bin Laden Raid…. more about his life and the life of being a SEAL Team VI member ) or Blacklisted by History (the untold truth of Joe McCarthy)?

  20. I never did see this film, but I have the theme song by Wang Chung as a 45 single. :)

  21. Loved this movie. Also has an amazing car chase scene that I still remember. I will watch it again, now that you have reminded me of it. Thanks!

  22. MikeW says:

    Defoe did a good job being a bad guy in this one, but his ability to be such an opposite as Sgt. Elias in Platoon shows true talent. What do you think Vukovich's character represented?

    Having been raised in LA, with its anonymous hugeness, the film captured the sense of a city that swallows up individuals, justice, revenge and lives as if it was the city itself that governed the outcomes of these dramas. The characters and their concerns seemed isolated in the massiveness of the city state. In this, the movie had something of Blade Runner in it.

    What do I say about cities as gods? Nonsense. The film gives the city more power than it has, but then, maybe it can do that because we like to personify cities as much as native Americans personified clouds, peaks and prairies.

    I'd don't recall the movie portraying women caught in law enforcement dramas as leaders of society. That said, there was a surreal, depersonalized buzz throughout the action. The soundtrack definitely combined new wave sounds with city sounds to give the impression that the people were caught up in something huge and alive that was reducing them at every turn.

    The city-state of L.A., California, with its laws, compelling a few small people to battle with a few small others, over emotion, money and principles as interchangeable motives too easily accommodated by the larger game of the city. These characters seemed to get their identities from the role-lockers legislated for them, and their personalities took second place to their work.

    In the end, the entire movie conveyed the concept of modern slavery to our own ideas.

  23. klippsjournal says:

    Fantastic review.

  24. sarahinguangzhou says:

    2-3 books a week AND movies and TV? When do you get anything done? Or does Adrian do all the work?

  25. Thanks for the review. I'd forgotten about that movie. It comes from a time when movies had plots, engaged the audience, and cared about mood. Can't explain why but your review inspired me to go and watch Play Misty For Me – go figure.

  26. I decided to watch this movie even before I read your post, just due to that glorious poster.

  27. Thanks for the tip – look forward to seeing it.

  28. ruleofstupid says:

    I agree – it's a great film which has all those old-fashioned things like good acting, a considered script, fully fledged characters and a reliance on story rather than plot. God I'm old…

    Do say Hi to Adrian for me ;)

  29. I'd never heard of this movie before, but I've loved Willem Defoe ever since I watched "Boondock Saints." I'll have to add this movie to my list – thanks for the recommendation!

  30. meridabill says:

    We went to see this movie as a family back in the 80's. My sons were 15 and 13. It was shocking to American sexual sensibility at the time and my wife walked out in a huff glaring at me for taking our kids to such "trash." We stayed to watch and enjoyed it although I'm afraid my oldest son was more familiar with the drug trade than he should have been at the time. Now he's a therapist helping people in ways that the characters in "To Live and Die" didn't. A geat flick and as MikeW said does an excellent job depicting the reality of a city and its lifestyle at the time.

  31. colormusing says:

    I'm also a Dafoe fan. In the Hollywood sea of sameness, he is distinct, in acting ability as well as looks. I may have to see this film!

  32. kanzensakura says:

    Wow…..this was such a great movie – I've seen it four times and this reminds me to view it again. Let's see, Fitzgerald, This Movie….what else are you going to hit that I really like? Rubber Soul?

  33. babs1209 says:

    Sounds familiar, but i will watch it again after this recommendation. Thanks.

  34. Ahhhh Christian – one of my fav's. Love this movie.

  35. GalOnTrip says:

    Besides all your posts that I've always been in love with, I wanna know more about your imaginary friend, adrian. I mean, you really experience his existence while anyone else doesn't? Do you like talking to him while others think you're talking to yourself?

    • Adrian lives in my closet. He rarely comes out. When he does, he's all grumpy and stuff. He never, ever, leaves my apartment. He doesn't smoke or eat or drink or anything. He just curses a lot. And he likes to talk sports and politics.

  36. Good post. thank you.! New bloggers should take note and I will.

  37. GalOnTrip says:

    let me know when he comes out from your closet. send my regards to him. just a friendly advice, you could write about adrian one day for your next post. i believe lots of your readers will be interested. you already talked about yourself finally, though. why don't you give him a turn to be the next subject?

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