Title: To Live and Die in L.A.
Director: William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist)
Writers: William Friedkin and Gerald Petievich, based on Petievich’s novel
Stars: William Peterson (“CSI”), Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man), John Turturro (Do the Right Thing), Dean Stockwell (Blue Velvet)
The Story: A cocky secret service agent becomes obsessed with catching a freaky counterfeiter.
How it Came to be Underrated: Peterson connected right away with critics but audiences never embraced him as a movie star. Ironically, he would need to add twenty pounds, go gray, and start his own TV show before he finally fulfilled his early promise.
Why It’s Great:
- We’re deep into guilty pleasure territory here. This movie is very cheesy in a very ‘80s kind of way. It has day-glo titles, a synthesizer score by Wang Chung… There’s even a partner who says “I’m getting too old for this shit” in the first five minutes! (He doesn’t get much older) What makes it worth watching, despite its flaws, is the chance to see unknown actors, especially Dafoe, turn into stars while you watch. Friedkin, who gave Gene Hackman his first leading role, has a great eye for tough guys. He lets his actors achieve a level of intensity that most directors would shy away from. He doesn’t let anyone worry about being likable.
- Friedkin always has a wonderful sense of process. Watching Dafoe at work, counterfeiting bills, is just as thrilling as an action sequence. One gets the feeling that Dafoe learned everything he needed to know to have a lucrative second career.
- Friedkin is hoping to re-create his French Connection heyday, which he can’t do, but that goal inspires him to mount a car chase even wilder than Hackman’s race with the elevated train. This time he lets Peterson go pell-mell the wrong direction down the L.A. freeway. It'll get your heart rate up.
- One question: Both this and that other secret service thriller, In the Line of Fire, show the same agents protecting the president and busting counterfeiters. I realize screenwriters think it’s cool that the same organization has both responsibilities, but surely the same agents don’t do both jobs-- I mean, these are different skill sets, right?
Underrated Compared To: that other ‘80s cop movie where the partner says “I’m getting too old for this shit.” This movie, unlike that one, is willing to admit that actions have consequences, and “crossing the line” is actually a really bad idea.
If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: In the Line of Fire has aged pretty well, too. Better, in fact.
How Available Is It?: Available to rent on dvd, but not instantly.