Movie Matters – E01 – To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

[00:00:00] JC: Welcome to Just Curious Media. This is Movie Matters and I’m Jason Connell. Today, I’m talking about To Live and Die in L.A., a 1985 action thriller, directed by William Friedkin, who you may or may not know from classics, such as The French Connection and The Exorcist; both Oscar-nominated. Friedkin actually won his first Academy Award for The French Connection. It’s 7.3 rating on IMDB. It’s 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.

This movie has a real phonetic pace to it. It’s just so stylized and pulls you in with the rawness of it all, the characters, the way they interact with one another. This movie comes off a little bit like Lethal Weapon, in the sense it’s two cops; one young, one old, one on the edge trying to make his mark, except they’re not cops. They’re secret service agents and they’re going after a great money counterfeiter and that’s played by a very young Willem Dafoe. He’s amazing in the role. Friedkin actually cast it with two relatively unknowns at the time; it was William Petersen and John Pankow.

Petersen would go on to do a lot of CSI’s, of which I’m just not that familiar with. Pankow I actually recognize from Mad About You. He played Paul Reiser’s brother in that series. They’re great in it. Apparently, they were friends in acting school and Friedkin met them in Chicago and cast them, over some much bigger names that had tried out of these roles. There’s also a young John Turturro in this film, who’s very Turturro-esque. Of course, one of my personal favorites is Dean Stockwell, who plays an attorney in the film, also steals every scene that he’s in. 

One of the things that draws me to this movie is that it’s such an LA movie. Living here for the last 15 years, I’m always fascinated by films that are shot here that actually hold up and it really captured the early to mid-80s era, probably complimented a lot by the Wang Chung score, which by the way, check out on Spotify. It’s actually wonderful. A little fun fact on that note, they even have a song name To Live and Die in L.A. and Friedkin upon hiring Wang Chung said, “No matter what you do, do not create a song with the film’s title in it.” So they did. They gave it to him, Friedkin listened to it. Loved it. Puts it in the movie.

The counterfeiting in the film was so real that Dafoe even said every time he heard a helicopter fly over, he thought they were going to be raided, because they really were making fake money. True story, some of the bills got into circulation after the film. The secret service had to go out and take them out of circulation. It went from the prop department to the set to the grocery store down the street.

This movie has such a high-rewatchability to it. I go back every, I don’t know, five, six, seven, eight years, watch it. It’s almost like you’re watching it for the first time. Sure, some of it stands out, but there’s some moments here and there that really are well-crafted. The opening has a great scene at the Beverly Hilton. The two secret service agents are on Reagan’s detail and then we’re on this counterfeiting saga the rest of the way.

There’s also an amazing twist in the movie, of which I will not say, because I do not want to have spoilers in this particular show. There is absolutely one of the greatest Los Angeles car chase scenes ever. It took six weeks to do. Friedkin shot it last just in case any of the actors were harmed, it would’ve slowed production down. They get into the LA River, they’re on the freeways. It’s an incredible, iconic part of the film.

I highly recommend watching this movie for the first time, or revisiting it. You know what, tell me what you think. You could contact me directly through our Instagram, which is @Movie__Matters. Yeah, let me know. Let me know what you think.

For those reasons and countless more, please enjoy To Live and Die in L.A.


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