Director William Friedkin, the man who brought us The French Connection and The Exorcist, fell into a bit of a slump after those box office successes. To Live And Die In L.A. was the shot in the arm he needed. And while the movie is not perfect, it's still very good, and worth your time.
When a notorious, highly sophisticated counterfeiter murders his partner, Secret Service agent Richard Chance (William Petersen) launches a furious vendetta to capture the man responsible. But master counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe) is always just one step ahead of Chance. Clashing with one bureaucratic road block after another, Chance is forced to break the rules in order to obtain enough cash for a sting operation, in the hope of bringing Masters down. The risks he takes soon spiral out of control though, leading to a wave of violence with moral reprecussions, taking Chance down to a morally ambiguous road from which there may be no return.
One of the things that makes To Live And Die In L.A. work is the fact that the hero isn't exactly a saint. In fact, he can be as "dastardly", as the villian of the film, doing things that are just as awful. Petersen goes to those darker places and gives a great perfomance. Based on Gerald Petievich's novel, the script, written by Friedkin and Petievich, allows for plenty of drama and action. As director and the "father" of the modern car chase, Friedkin almost tops the one he crafted for the aforementioned film, The French Connection...Almost.
For its DVD debut, MGM has put together a nice special edition, complete with some fine extras. The talky audio commentary from Friedkin is a good...but I wonder if it wouldn't have turned out better if Petersen sat in for it as well? The 30 minute documentary,"Counterfeit World: The Making of To Live and Die in L.A." is a nice retropective--some info from the commentary is repeated here though. There's also a deleted scene and the very controversial alternate ending, that caused a stir at the time in '85, for all to see in a featurette. A photo gallery and the theatrical trailer top off the bonus material.
As I said at the outset, To Live And Die In L.A., is well worth a look, for both fans and newcomers alike.