to live and die in l.a.

ruth: how much do i get for the information i gave you on waxman?

chance: no arrest, no money.
ruth: it's my fault he's dead? it took me six months to get next to him. i got expenses, you know.
chance: guess what? uncle sam don't give a shit about your expenses. you want bread, fuck a baker.

- to live and die in l.a.

to live and die in l.a.is a film that has influenced a lot of the writing for cooler than the millions, what was supposed to be my next novel, but one that i have subsequently shelved along with my writing career in general. it is such a strong influence though, that i feel it's worth talking about here.

to live and die in l.a. is the quintisential 80's crime film. it stars william l. peterson as richard chance, a secret service officer who's partner gets murdered by a counterfeit dealer, eric masters (willem dafoe). the movie is pretty simple as plots go, with chase doing anything he can to get masters, including blackmailing a parolee, stealing evidence and stealing $30,000 in real money in order to get masters and his fake money.

the movie is purely 80's, with everything from the neon green and red font to the music of wang chung, to its awareness of its time and politics (it starts out with a terrorist act by a suicide bomber claiming death to america and israel during a speach by ronald regan).

in this case, the movie's plot is pretty secondary. what makes it so great is the little details, such as a sequence where the director, william friedkin, takes the time to spend five minutes out of the movie to show in detail the process of making counterfeit money. the sequence looks authentic, and it's quite beautiful, with a particular shot of willem dafoe blowing on the sheet metal and having the money imprint come glowing out of the metal like ghost trails. there is another scene where the dafoe character burns a painting of his. it makes no sense. but it looks good, like a music video.

there is also another stunning chase sequence, one of the best at the time. chance and his partner are being chased by the f.b.i. after their attempt to rip off a bunch of real money goes sour. the chase happens on the l.a. freeway system, but only against the traffic, which was a first for movies at the time. then there is, of course, the shock ending, which i don't want to reveal just in case people have yet to see the film. it's a totally gritty, balls-to-the-wall ending which i definitely didn't expect the first time i saw it.

to live and die in l.a. is the ulimate in 80's nihilism, from regan economics to an anti-hero that does anything he can to get his man, including getting another officer killed, to the music video direction to finally one of the most fitting endings ever written to a movie. also, where else can you find daphne from frasier as a lesbian theater performer?