I want you to watch this movie before you read any further.
And the reason I want you to watch it is twofold.
1) it needs to be discovered for itself.
2) There’s no way to really talk about it without ruining it.
Ok stop here and do the thing. Please. For me.
You see? Even if I don’t tell you about that ending, even if I say something like, shock ending, or twist, or whatever. Or hey, “don’t read anything about this movie before you watch it.” That’s just going to give the game away.
I want you to walk into this thing cold like I did, and then watch Director William Friedkin effortlessly move from cop movie cliche into stuff I have never seen before in a cop movie and then into, “Oh my God what the hell is happening!”
Not only is that ending bonkers but the movie turns from a righteous cop trying to bust the guys who killed his partner into, let’s commit a crime ourselves for … reasons.
And then, Freidkin who was in the running for the greatest car chase ever with The French Connection takes it to another level (again) with a wild stretch of insanity on LA freeways.
He did things so insane that a key staff member tapped out. Check out this wild paragraph from IMDB.
“The film’s director of photography (and noted Friedkin enabler) Robby Müller declined to shoot the chase over safety concerns, so the second unit cameraman, Robert D. Yeoman, came on instead. (Fun fact: Yeoman went on to become Wes Anderson’s DP of choice. So keep this man’s enormous balls in mind next time you scoff at a twee center frame.)”
They filmed the car chase after they filmed everything else believing that if something terrible happened (and everyone seemed to think it would) at least the whole movie was in the can.
Billy Freidkin directed a bunch of things but his most notable flick is The Exorcist. In other words, this is a director who is unafraid of bashing through the safety rails of society.
When I walked out of Uncut Gems, the Safdie brother’s thriller about gambling, basketball, and the diamond business, I said to myself, “That wasn’t a movie that was a heart attack.”
To Live and Die in LA plays in the same space with unrelenting tension, sex, and shocking violence.
It’s also clearly a movie that came out while Miami Vice was popular. I don’t think it owes that much of a debt to the show because for better or worse Freidkin is not Michael Mann. Freidkin would never be satisfied to just sit on a shot and let people “vibe.”
It does owe a little bit to Mann’s Thief. In Thief, you just get scenes of what purports to be actual high-stakes safe cracking. To Live and Die in LA does the same thing for counterfeiting.
However, as I was watching this I could see, in some ways, how Mann’s Heat could have been influenced by this. Maybe not. But if you were planning a crime movie night I could see you playing them back to back. Follow it up with Joe Carnahan’s Narc. Or Copland.
To Live and Die in LA is not on any streaming services but I really can’t recommend it enough for a certain type of crime movie fan. If Heat and especially Narc and Copland had you nodding your head then this one is for you.