To Live And Die In L.A. (1985 with William L. Petersen and Willem Defoe)

USA / 1985

Writers: William Friedkin, Gerald Petievich, from his own novel / Cinematography: Robby Muller / Director: William Friedkin

Cast: William L Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, John Turturro, Debra Feuer

Secret Service agent Richard Chance (William L Petersen) celebrates the imminent retirement of his partner Jim Hart (Michael Greene) by foiling an Islamic terrorist’s suicide mission. To follow this, Hart aims to conclude his final investigation by capturing Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe), a suspected forger.

When his ambush fails, Hart is killed. Chance swears vengeance, and asks his new partner, John Vukovich (John Pankow) for support. Together they intercept Cody (John Turturro), one of Masters’ messengers, and set a trap. It also fails, and Masters arranges for Cody to be whacked, but his target escapes.

In the meantime the agents have contacted Bob Grimes (Dean Stockwell), Masters’ lawyer and stooge who, tired of being used, agrees to help trap his client. Posing as customers, they convince Masters to print $1million in counterfeit notes, and begin to bend the law to breaking point in order to catch a killer.

“I’m just following my gut instincts,” claimed Friedkin when asked why he had chosen the project. Those same instincts have taken him down the same route as The French Connection, with a gruff cop tailing a sophisticated wrongdoer with personal and professional motivation, culminating in a car chase.

But as that film set conventions for the genre, Friedkin at times seems restrained by those very rules, conveying a morality which, in the words of NME, “makes Clint Eastwood seem Socialist.” Location work is exemplary, using Wim Wenders’ German cinematographer Robby Muller to bring the urban landscapes to life.

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