To Live And Die In L.A. is another masterpiece of neo-noir (neon-noir?) from the 1980s that has fallen out of the zeitgeist for some unknown reason. You would normally not expect this, as it was directed by William Friedkin. He even manages to top the famous car chase scene from The French Connection in this one. Just like how that movie was very 1970s, this one is very 1980s. It even has a soundtrack by Wang Chung. It is a neon-soaked slice of crime movie mastery.


The film follows the attempts of a treasury agent and his new partner to catch a counterfeiter who murdered his previous colleague. They will go to, and past, the limits of the law to track him down. William Peterson is the lead, Richard Chance. His partner gets wasted by William Defoe, the master counterfeiter, a few days before his retirement.

Agent Richard Chance

After Chance’s partner is dead, he swears to bring down the killer no matter what it takes. He basically bullies his new partner into joining him in many illegal schemes throughout the story in an effort to achieve this. Extortion, robbery, lying to his superiors, murder, rogue operations, you name it. Chance has no real limits. He isn’t really a bad guy, he just thinks his personal agenda is more important than following laws. It’s made clear he is right on, or over, the edge. As a result, you start to wonder if the two agents are going to wind up in a Federal Penitentiary before Defoe even gets a parking ticket.

This movie may also be the first time the phrase “I’m too old for this shit” was ever used on screen.


I’m being vague because the movie has a pretty big shock towards the end that I am definitely not going to ruin for you.

To Live And Die In L.A. is very slick, stylish, and violent. Of course it is violent. You guessed that, because I am writing about it. The director’s credentials are unquestionable. You know it is going to be a good movie, with a compelling and well-written story, when you see his name attached. It is based on the 1984 novel of the same name by former U.S. Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich, who co-wrote the screenplay with Friedkin.

The color is vibrant. The soundtrack is cool as hell. It is a visual masterpiece. Friedkin really uses his skill to play with the neon-soaked colors of 1980s Los Angeles. Winding Refn was clearly influenced heavily by this movie.

A fun background story for the movie. Over one million dollars of counterfeit money was produced but with three deliberate errors so that it could not be used outside the film. The filmmakers burned most of the fake money but some leaked out, was used, and linked back to the production including the son of one of the crew members trying to use some of the prop money to buy candy at a local store.

Three FBI agents from Washington, D.C. interviewed around fifteen crew members including Friedkin, who screened the workprint for them. He offered to show the film to the Secretary of the Treasury and offered to take out anything that was a danger to national security. He never heard back from the government.

Roger Ebert gave To Live And Die In L.A. four out of four stars and wrote:

“…the movie is also first-rate. The direction is the key. Friedkin has made some good movies…and some bad ones. This is his comeback, showing the depth and skill of the early pictures”.

If you haven’t seen it, you are missing out on one of the best cop films of the 1980s.

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  1. Wild, wild west says:

    The movie is/was, simply put, a masterpiece. I keep meaning to track down the book, but never got around to it.


    1. Shawn says:

      reading is gay


  2. This film came out the year that I moved to LA. One of the things that this film does well is show LA in all its actual, un-glamorous glory. Most films shot in LA revolve around one of three areas: The San Fernando Valley, the shore area (Malibu, etc) and Beverly Hills/Hollywood/Brentwood.

    You rarely see the port areas, the refineries, the oil storage, the industrial areas, Union Station, etc. To Live and Die in LA shows these areas in gritty reality. When I moved to LA, the sheer size of the sprawl blew my mind – you could drive for three to four hours and not make it across LA (due to traffic, detours, etc). Driving through some of the same areas in the years I lived in LA, I would often think back on the film and wonder “How the hell did he get that shot?” In many areas, he had to thread his filming through absurd levels of traffic congestion in order to get his footage.

    I’d say that To Live and Die in LA is probably one of the best movies shot in LA – ever. It really uses the whole of the city as a movie set. It also has one of the most anti-studio endings to the movie – an ending that the studio execs probably hated, and probably tried to get changed to something they probably thought would be “more profitable.”


    1. Shawn says:

      why in the hell did you move to that shithole


      1. I was recruited to go out to LA and work for a small company that did PDP-11 and VAX networking. I was very experienced at slinging code on both PDP’s and VAXen, so I took a chance to move clear across the country and get away from the grim existence I had in upstate New York.

        They guy who recruited me was a Canadian in the US on a work visa. He didn’t tell me that I’d be working cheek-by-jowl with a bunch of OT-3 level Scientologists – mostly because he didn’t know either until we’d been there a month. That’s when we figured out that we were the only two “wogs” in a sea of Scientologists.

        I had the full Los Angeles experience, I’ll say that. I have a zillion tales to tell of that time. It’s where I bought my first Glock (a 19), and it was one of the first batches of ’19’s sold. Still have it.

        The place where I worked was just down the street (Ventura Blvd) from where the North Hollywood Shootout occurred. By that time, I had quite the Scientology outfit and was working in Pasadena. The gun store where I purchased the Glock 19 was the same store the cops went to borrow AR-15’s.


  3. Wild, wild west says:

    David Chappelle blames it on “the alphabet people” you know.


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