To Live and Die in L.A.
Published Nov 01, 2003
To Live and Die in L.A., Exorcist director William Friedkin's gritty 1985 counterfeiting flick, emerged as a surprise (in its day) for a number of reasons. It featured a dirty-looking Los Angeles, not the city of angels and dreams of stardom but one of smog, grit, corruption with a sleazy underbelly. It featured two unknowns in the lead, William L. Petersen (C.S.I.) and John Pankow (Mad About You's cousin Ira) as partnered cops straddling legal lines in order to nail an artist/counterfeiter in the very young form of Willem Dafoe. What wasn't out of character for its times but seems positively anachronistic now is its realistic, heart-pumping chase sequences, which while paling in comparison to the CGI-enhanced whirligigs of contemporary filmmaking, at the time had Friedkin comparing it to his own work in The French Connection. (For those lacking in car chase film history, that's good.) On DVD, it's difficult to connect with a film that seems more like vintage clothing that's not quite in vogue, unless you came to it in its original form, when the long, extended counterfeiting scene — outlining the hows and wherefores in real, dirty fingernail hard work, not a mouse click in sight — was shocking in its realism. So realistic were the counterfeiting sequence and the results, Friedkin actually had federal agents investigating the film, his property manager and the "consultant" they didn't ask too many questions of when outlining the scene. That counterfeiting scandal is the highlight of the "making of" documentary found here; that, and the change in ending. Unlike contemporary filmmakers who bow to pressure when asked for a more "upbeat" ending, Friedkin allowed his sunnier alternative take to be screened only once, then pulled it himself. Looking at it, it's easy to see why — a happy ending seems particularly out of place given the smelly grime of humanity the film wallows in otherwise. Plus: deleted scene, commentary by Friedkin, more. (MGM)