To Live And Die In L.A.

"And the check is in the mail and I promise not to come in your mouth..." Carl

"And the check is in the mail and I promise not to come in your mouth... " Carl


To Live And Die In L.A. (1985) is a film that peels off the veneer of criminals and law enforcement.

Directed by William Friedkin.

Starring William Peterson, John Pankow and Willem Dafoe among others.

Friedkin imbues the characters in To Live and Die in L.A. with a duality that blurred the lines of who they are and what they do for a living. The film does not follow the standard formula of good vs evil, or cops vs criminals. Friedkin's use of duality in his characters in this film reminds me of Wei-Kueng Lau's, Infernal Affairs (2002). Friedkin and Lau both show a world inhabited by characters that do both good and evil, depending on the situation and what they are determined to accomplish.

As an actor I was drawn to the artistry of its actors, cinematographer and the director. Peterson plays his cop as a flamboyant, reckless, immoral criminal while Dafoe plays his criminal as a poised, morally sound, methodical cop. Friedkin lets them and other actors in scene after scene improv their way through the story and film. The effect is at once jarring and suspenseful. I never knew where a scene was going or what the actors or director might do next. The ending is even more insane, because it continues after the end credits. Friedkin gives the audience an Easter egg as an ending.

As an audience member I wanted to inhabit the stylish, dangerous and reckless world Friedkin created. The use of color in each scene by Robbie Muller's camera work gives the audience the visual cues to understand the deeper meaning of a scene. Also of interest was the way Friedkin inserted brief flashback images for characters during important moments in a scene. Another aspect of Friedkin's work is the incredible detail in every scene. Of high note is the car chase and the counterfeit printing scenes.

In the scene below watch how Friedkin goes to a close up of Darlanne Fluegel's expressive face and suddenly we are watching the thoughts in her mind, played as a flashback. It gives a much deeper meaning to the scene and Darlanne's remarkable moment. Enjoy!

Trivia - In the expressway chase scene, to increase audience tension, the forward direction of driving was switched from US right side of the road to British left side of the road. Peterson and Pankow's car is going forward correctly for US road traffic, while the oncoming traffic is going forward in a British left side traffic flow. The traffic flow becomes apparent, when in a long shot, Peterson's car switches to the left side traffic flow and the traffic is flowing in a US right side flow like Peterson's car.