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Author Topic: To Live And Die In L.A. (1985) Smog Noir in the City Of Angels  (Read 1293 times)
cigar joe
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« on: March 04, 2016, 04:46:18 PM »

Directed by William Friedkin (The French Connection (1971)), written by former U.S. Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich (novel), screenplay by William Friedkin and Gerald Petievich. Outstanding cinematography by Robby Müller (Paris, Texas (1984), Barfly (1987)) the film stars quite the cast, William Petersen (Thief (1981), Manhunter (1986)) , Willem Dafoe (Wild at Heart (1990)), John Pankow, Michael Greene, John Turturro (Miller's Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), The Big Lebowski (1998)), Darlanne Fluegel (Once Upon a Time in America (1984)), Dean Stockwell (The Arnelo Affair (1947), (Compulsion (1959), (Paris, Texas (1984), (Blue Velvet (1986)), Robert Downey Sr., and Jack Hoar.



Beautifully bleak and highly stylistic. This film actually makes a lethally smoggy industrial West Coast/LA sunrise jaw droppingly gorgeous, perverting the normal aesthetic. Palm trees compete with power poles and high tension lines that diffuse into a yellowish soup. Rail yards and wrecking yards are bathed in golden light. All this segues into a montage of a series of varied illegal counterfeit $20 bill transactions.

(On a personal sidebar, in the late 60's early 70's, I lived in New York City and used to commute back and forth into Manhattan from Queens by elevated subway. I can vividly remember standing on the Queensboro Plaza station and watching the unearthly crazy colored polluted sunsets I saw over the Manhattan skyline violet, sea greens, fuschia, and pink.)















The tale is about three US Secret Service Agents who are headquartered in L.A. When not providing security for a visiting POTUS (President of the United States) they do field investigation work for the US Treasury, targeting counterfeiters.


Richard Chance (William Peterson)

Richard Chance (Petersen) and Jim Hart (Greene) are top notch agents. Chance the cock of the walk, is a bit reckless, a bit overconfident, a bit of a jock, a bit shady, he even shacks up in a "safe house" with a stripper Ruth Lanier (Darlanne Fluegel) that he uses as a "stoolie with benefits". He holds her probation and the ability to see her daughter as leverage.


Ruth a stollie with benefits

Ruth Lanier: What would happen if I stopped giving you information on Masters?
Richard Chance: Why?
Ruth Lanier: I'm just curious.
[pause]
Richard Chance: I'd have your parole revoked.

Agent Hart is the veteran, steadfast, partner who is almost a father figure to Chance.


Jim Hart (Michael Green)

Chance and Hart have just busted up an assassination attempt on President Reagan. The stress of the details are getting too much for Hart who is soon going to retire and go fishing. Chance unwinds by bungee jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge over L.A. Harbor (though in the film he calls it B.A.S.E. jumping). A day after Hart's retirement party at the Dog Run Bar, and with only a few days left on the clock, Hart heads off on one last surveillance assignment. He drives out into the desert to check on a warehouse suspected of housing counterfeiting equipment. With binoculars he checks out the site belonging to counterfeiter Rick Masters (Dafoe).


Rick Masters (Dafoe)

Hart, thinking the site is deserted approaches and jumps the fence. He starts to poke around and finds a trash bag full of cropped currancy paper in a dumpster. Masters and Jack, his bodyguard, surprize and kill Hart. Leading a team of agents to Masters desert warehouse Chance discovers a pool of blood soaking into the dirt from Hart's body lying in the dumpster.


Chance at Master's desert warehouse

Chance gets assigned a stuffy new partner John Vukovich (Pankow), a no nonsense by the book professional. Chance tells John that he is making taking down Masters a personal vendetta.

The two new partners begin putting the screws to Masters. They start by setting up a tag team surveillance post in a church across from attorney Max Waxman a well known shady shyster associate of Masters. During Vukovich's turn on watch he falls asleep, Masters shows up and whacks Waxman.


Masters after killing Waxman

Arriving at the unsecured crime scene Chance takes a notebook belonging to Waxman, which is apparently a payoff record. Vukovich tell's Chance that he's tampering with evidence but later back at headquarters the two come to an uneasy truce. Vukovich says he won't rat him out, but the agents now work two different angles. Chance uses the coded payoff book and his relationship with Ruth to get the inside skinny on underworld transactions. Vulkovich on the other hand arranges a meeting with Masters private attorney Bob Grimes (Dean Stockwell) in a downtown L.A. bar.


Vukovich and Grimes (Dean Stockwell)

Bob Grimes: I don't have a lot of time. I'm in the middle of a trial.
John Vukovich: What kind of trial?
Bob Grimes: It's a dope case. Client got busted smuggling fifty pounds of cocaine. I should be able to get him off, though. Seach warrant's weak.
John Vukovich: Weak?
Bob Grimes: Color of the house is listed as brown in the warrant, when in fact it's beige and yellow.
John Vukovich: You should be ashamed of yourself.
Bob Grimes: I don't make any apologies for being an attorney. If I didn't accept the case, somebody else would, without a doubt. Without a doubt.


Shipwreck Joey's Caberett


Chance and Ruth


Getting info


Shipwreck Joey's stripper

To be continued....

« Last Edit: March 04, 2016, 04:47:46 PM by cigar joe » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2016, 04:46:44 PM »

continued.....

Grimes, agrees to set up a meeting between Masters and the two agents. The agents will pose as bankers from Palm Springs interested in Masters' counterfeiting services. Masters is reluctant to work with them, but ultimately agrees to print them a million worth of fake bills for $50,000. The problem is that the Treasury Department only allows payouts of $30,000. From Ruth, Chance gets the skinny that a money deal is going down and that a bag-man is coming by Amtrak from San Francisco. He tells Vukovich that they are going to steal it.


Amtrak in an homage to Bad Day At Black Rock

John Vukovich: So now you want to commit a robbery?
Richard Chance: I wouldn't call it that.
John Vukovich: What would you call it?
Richard Chance: Taking down a douche bag who's trying to break the law.

Unfortunately, the info is wrong the bag-man Thomas Ling is in reality an undercover FBI agent on a sting operation, after Chance and Vukovich abduct him they drive him to the rail yards along the Los Angeles River. There they break open the suitcase only to find a phone book. Chance knows hes carrying and finds that he has a money belt, the FBI agents that are shadowing him accidently kill Ling after a freak accident while they are trying to save him.


The bag-man indicent


high angle from the FBI sniper's POV

Chance and Vukovich not knowing what's coming down run for their car and they try to evade a swarm of FBI men. What follows is one of the greatest car chases on film easily equal to those in Bullitt (1968), The French Connection (1971), The Seven-Ups (1973), and it's also an homage the car chase after Charles McGraw in the L.A. River in the Classic Film Noir Roadblock (1951).


6th St. Downtown L.A.


warehouse district


Santa Fe freight


low angle


evasive maneuver


homage to the Charles McGraw film Roadblock (1951)


L.A. River

By luck Chance and Vukovich manage to evade their pursuers. At their daily Treasury Dept. briefing they are read an FBI bulletin that reveals that Ling and FBI agent was kidnapped, robbed, and killed by two unidentified men driving a cream colored car. Vukovich becomes guilt ridden, but Chance is still focused on getting Masters. Vukovich concerned with saving his own skin goes back to sleazeball attorney Bob Grimes, who advises to turn himself in and rat on Chance. Vukovich refuses that advice.


Grimes

Chance and Vukovich meet Masters for the the money exchange. The agents attempt to arrest Masters when they get the evidence but Jack Pulls a shotgun and in an exchange of fire both Chance and Jack are killed. Masters escapes in the mayhem and Vukovich is stunned by his partners death.

The film has a 80's techno Wang Chung pounding beat. The cast at that time (save for Dean Stockwell) where pretty much all unknowns. The mayhem ratchets up nicely and unpredictably throughout the film. It's and anti buddy cop film.

The Noir ending, has the now jaded Vukovich visiting Ruth as she's packing up to get the hell out of Dodge.  He knows Chance gave her ten G's as her cut. Ruth used it to pay off her debts. She's his bitch now.

Gritty, flamboyant, caustic, beautifully bleak 9/10

Noirsville





















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« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2016, 05:26:37 PM »

I remember it as boring. I don't think I'll give it another chance.

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« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2016, 05:32:36 PM »

I remember it as boring. I don't think I'll give it another chance.

Boring it's anything but boring, your loss  Cry Cry Cry

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« Reply #4 on: March 05, 2016, 07:25:30 AM »

I remember liking it back in the day. CJ, your write-ups make me want to re-visit it. Good on ya.  Afro

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« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2016, 03:34:21 PM »

I remember liking it back in the day. CJ, your write-ups make me want to re-visit it. Good on ya.  Afro

The only negative for some folks may be the 80s techno soundtrack, it doesn't bother me.

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« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2016, 10:47:29 AM »

I watched it recently with the audio commentary and Friedkin was entertaining to listen to. I seen it twice straight through but it just didn't click with me. Maybe another view is in order.

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« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2016, 12:24:11 PM »

I watched it recently with the audio commentary and Friedkin was entertaining to listen to. I seen it twice straight through but it just didn't click with me. Maybe another view is in order.

What exactly didn't click, the story, the characters, the cinematography? I'm curious now. 

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« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2016, 07:35:45 PM »

What exactly didn't click, the story, the characters, the cinematography? I'm curious now. 

Maybe it was Dafoe's character that really didn't interest me as a villain. I can't really remember EXACTLY what I didn't connect with. I'll give it a watch sometime next week and try and answer that question.

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« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2016, 03:38:37 AM »

Maybe it was Dafoe's character that really didn't interest me as a villain. I can't really remember EXACTLY what I didn't connect with. I'll give it a watch sometime next week and try and answer that question.

I didn't care for Dafoe's character either he was more slimey rather than iconic, it's the style and cinematography and the ambiance of Smoggy L.A. that grew on me. It could lose the Wang Chung soundtrack  without a peep from me either, lol.

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« Reply #10 on: March 09, 2016, 02:37:45 PM »

I gave it another Chance. It was better than I remembered it but still not as tight as you make it to be. Let's start from the cops: puffy-faced Petersen looks anonymous, the diminutive partner as credible as Elisha Cook jr would be in the same part. And then Turturro: his part of the story could be erased as it has no relevance to the development of the plot (BTW, I do not understand how Petersen got to him again).  Another thing that doesn't work, as hinted, it's the Dafoe's character: it is not well delved into, he is not shown in his dealings with other criminals, except with the black one who should manage Turturro killing (a goofy scene: how is he supposed to be killed?). Now, it is true that the car chase is tops, but is it credible that the undercover agent never reveals himself even when fronting potential killers? And is it also credible that the sniper shoots him dead by mistake? And the "back from the dead" (or almost) of the cop who kills Dafoe?   Bah...Anyway, not a noir or neo-post noir or whatever you wanna call it: this is cop movie, in my book. 6/10

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« Reply #11 on: March 09, 2016, 03:37:19 PM »

And then Turturro: his part of the story could be erased as it has no relevance to the development of the plot (BTW, I do not understand how Petersen got to him again).  

Through a tip from Peterson's girlfriend I believe, but I'll have to watch it again.

Quote
Another thing that doesn't work, as hinted, it's the Dafoe's character: it is not well delved into, he is not shown in his dealings with other criminals, except with the black one who should manage Turturro killing (a goofy scene: how is he supposed to be killed?).
 The only dealings is the montage at the beginning showing the counterfeit $20 being passed around. I assume they were Dafoe's.  Turturro is supposed to be stabbed to death by those inmates.

Quote
Now, it is true that the car chase is tops, but is it credible that the undercover agent never reveals himself even when fronting potential killers? And is it also credible that the sniper shoots him dead by mistake? And the "back from the dead" (or almost) of the cop who kills Dafoe?   Bah...Anyway, not a noir or neo-post noir or whatever you wanna call it: this is cop movie, in my book. 6/10

The car accident that hit the FBI car on the bridge jarred the sniper enough the throw the sniper's shot off.

Bullshit it's a noir by my Noir-dar, in the vein of Rough Cop (1954) and Shield For Murder (1954), you got Peterson as the obsessed and alienated individual, plus the stylistic noir cinematography good enough for me.  Cool

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« Reply #12 on: March 09, 2016, 11:43:33 PM »


Turturro is supposed to be stabbed to death by those inmates.

No knife to be seen, at least by me. I missed it?

Quote
The car accident that hit the FBI car on the bridge jarred the sniper enough the throw the sniper's shot off.

Yeah: a true professional. 

Quote
Bullshit it's a noir by my Noir-dar, in the vein of Rough Cop (1954) and Shield For Murder (1954), you got Peterson as the obsessed and alienated individual, plus the stylistic noir cinematography good enough for me.  Cool

Obsessed and alienated? Another Mel Gibson? Only because he likes bungee jumping? He's just out for vengeance, as in millions of other cops and western movies.

Another circumstance I can't explain is why Petersen's pard, after having discovered Dafoe's lair with all the printing material (after the call to the paintress who gives him the lead), does nothing about it: that's another loose end, isn't it? They'd just have to wait for him  to get there and nab him.

And generally, the impression is that, if Petersen is willing to violate so many rules, why he just doesn't get Dafoe  and gets rid of him?

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« Reply #13 on: March 10, 2016, 04:23:33 AM »

No knife to be seen, at least by me. I missed it?

The CO's (Correction Officers) have exhibits here at fairs etc., etc.,  where they show all the weapons confiscated from inmates, some are mere toothbrushes honed razor sharp. It looked to me that they were making stabbing motions.

Quote
Yeah: a true professional.  

Yea shit happens, even with true professionals. The film is based on a story by an ex Secret Service Agent, it could well have happened in some scenario.

Quote
Obsessed and alienated?  He's just out for vengeance, as in millions of other cops and western movies.

Hell yes obsessed for vengeance and alienated from his fellow agents, the obsessed and alienated character is a Noir trope along with events spiraling out of control. What the fuck do you think Noir has to have a femme fatale and a detective in a trench coat?  Grin I can't help it if millions of cop movies and westerns do this. That is why I called the Crime films NIPOs Noir In Plot Only. For me to be a Neo Noir you got to have that stylistic visual component This film has this in spades.

Quote
Another circumstance I can't explain is why Petersen's pard, after having discovered Dafoe's lair with all the printing material (after the call to the paintress who gives him the lead), does nothing about it: that's another loose end, isn't it? They'd just have to wait for him  to get there and nab him.

Nab him for what being an artist, having printing equipment? They got to make the actual buy of the counterfeit bills. He's not using plates like in the old days. I'm sure he destroys his negatives after each print run just as he destroyed the counterfeit $20s he got back.

Quote
And generally, the impression is that, if Petersen is willing to violate so many rules, why he just doesn't get Dafoe  and gets rid of him?

He broke the law, but he wasn't a murderer he still the anti hero.   Afro

Ok and here's the scoop on how he found Turturro. When Chance was visiting Cody in jail, there was a head shot picture of his girlfriend on the table ("Pretty girl, Carl"). In the apartment, Chance says, "Your bimbo girlfriend's listed in the Screen Actors directory."

« Last Edit: March 10, 2016, 05:08:41 AM by cigar joe » Logged

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« Reply #14 on: March 10, 2016, 05:20:35 AM »

It looked to me that they were making stabbing motions.

 Grin

Quote
Hell yes  obsessed and alienated character is a Noir trope along with events spiraling out of control. What the fuck do you think Noir has to have a femme fatale and a detective in a trench coat? I can't help it millions of cop movies and westerns do this. that is why I called them NIPOs Noir In Plot Only. For me to be a Neo Noir you got to have that stylistic visual component This film has this in spades.

Events spiralling out of control: yes, ridiculously so. Character obsessed: sure, by vengeance. Alienated: no, only in connection with the vengeance theme.   


Quote
Nab him for what being an artist, having printing equipment?

Just keep it under surveillance and wait for him to start printing. Which he does after having received the first $ 30.000. If not so why bother to know where this place is? And why Dafoe bothers to start a fire to destroy the equipment?





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