To Live and Die in L.A.

Darlanne Fluegel and William Petersen in To Live and Die in L.A. (dir. William Friedkin, 1985).

Dean Stockwell.

Willem Dafoe.

Friedkin is a very hit-and-miss director. His approach--and I believe he would admit to this--is for the most part to throw stuff on the floor and see if it makes interesting patterns. A lot of the time it does, but a lot of the rest of the time, as with The Exorcist (in my opinion), you just have a messy floor. The floor is a little messy in To Live and Die in L.A., but it's a big enough floor that ... agh, I'm abandoning this stupid metaphor. What I want to say is that this is a very good, if flawed, movie. The flaws are weirdly hard to pinpoint, but I think they have a fair amount to do with the casting of William Petersen and John Pankow as the two Secret Service partners who go after counterfeiter Willem Dafoe. They're both fine as actors, but they look so eighties, in that fratty young white guy way. I can't get past that.

The look of the film is one of its main strengths. Wim Wenders' sometime cinematographer Robby Müller drenches the screen in evocative colors, shifting elegantly from pastels to neons, tight compositions to sprawling vistas. Moreover, the one scene that Müller didn't shoot, an out-of-control chase sequence that won't quit, had me squirming on the couch. Dafoe gives a restrained, intense performance as an artist who's really a criminal who's really an artist etc. And can I just say, Dean Stockwell (who is onscreen only about five minutes total, and doesn't really do much, but still saturates the picture with his scary quietness) is God? Why the hell doesn't he get more big-screen roles? Did he piss off some powerful person?

1 comment:

richard lopez said...

this is one of my favorite films from the '80s perhaps because it seems like such an '80s flick, from the wash of colors to the silly score by wang chung. still, dafoe is fantastic and is an under-appreciated, under-used actor even today. peterson i think works as the gung-ho secret service agent because he is exactly as you described him, frat-boy testerone gone amock. i've not seen the film in years but one of my favorite scenes is when dafoe burns his paintings, which is something i imagine turner doing if turner could've moved past his obsessive craftmanship. friedkin is a hit-and-miss filmmaker. when i was a kid i was terrified of 'the exorcist' as an adult i find it just a weird collection cliched horror. i've not seen 'cruising' which was just released to dvd but i recall all the controversy when it was released.

still, all in all 'to live and die in l.a.' is a terrific movie.