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William Friedkin’s ‘To Live and Die in LA’ punches even harder in 4K


William Petersen, in his big-screen debut, plays hotshot Secret Service agent Richard Chance, who vows to avenge the murder of his veteran partner.

(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)


4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray, 1985, rated R, violence, language, nudity, sexuality

Best extra: The commentary with director/co-writer William Friedkin

AT THE OUTSET of his do-not-miss commentary, the late, great William Friedkin (“The French Connection,” “The Exorcist”), who passed this month at 87, says he’s breaking form. Instead of referencing “To Live and Die in L.A.,” he’s going to share his impressions, thoughts, and feelings about this uncompromising, unrelenting antidote to “48 Hrs.,” “Lethal Weapon,” and other feel-good, formulaic buddy movies of the 1980s.

Does he ever! Without question, this track is one of the best, on par with those by John Frankenheimer (“The Manchurian Candidate”). “Hurricane Billy” discusses everything, and for good measure, peppers the proceedings with some choice anecdotes that speak volumes about his one-of-a-kind M.O.

But if it’s been a while or you’re settling in for the first time, let’s catch you up.

(1&2) Willem Dafoe had worked in an experimental theater company in New York when he was cast as the ruthless counterfeiter, and painter, Eric Masters. (3) Always looking for a rush, and set on winning a bet, Chance prepares to jump from a bridge.

William Petersen (“Manhunter,” TV’s “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”), in his big-screen debut, plays hotshot Secret Service agent Richard Chance, who, with his veteran partner Jim Hart (Michael Greene, “*batteries not included”), is trying to catch the ruthless, slippery counterfeiter Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe, “Platoon,” “Spider-Man”). When Hart is gunned down by Masters’ henchman just days before retiring, Chance vows to use any and all means to bring Masters down. He tells his new partner John Vukovich (John Pankow, TV’s “Mad About You”) to get on board or stay out of his way.

Their trail leads to Carl Cody (John Turturro, “Barton Fink”), a Masters “mule” who Chance chases down at LAX. Cody is sent to prison, but after Masters tries to have him killed, he agrees to lead Chance to Masters. When Cody escapes, the agents run out options.

Make that legit options. Undeterred, Chance pressures Masters’ attorney Bob Grimes (Dean Stockwell, TV’s “Quantum Leap”) to set up a meeting to buy some “paper.” It’ll cost $50,000, but there’s no way he’s getting it through official channels. Then, he gets a tip from a parolee named Ruth Lanier (Darlanne Fluegel, “Once Upon a Time in America”), who he threatens to send back to jail and uses sexually, that a man from San Francisco is bringing in $50K to buy drugs.

Chance and Vukovich kidnap him and steal the money – except he’s undercover FBI and when he’s accidentally killed, they escape by barreling into oncoming traffic on an LA freeway. The chase, involving 200 stunt drivers, is every bit as thrilling as the one Friedkin pulled off in “The French Connection.” Later, posing as a businessman and doctor from Palm Springs, they meet Masters and set up the deal. The ending … well, no giveaways here.

(1) Using his skills as a painter, Masters touches up the plates for bogus $20 bills. (2) Chance’s partner, Jim Hart (Michael Greene), is about to be gunned down while looking for evidence of Masters’ operation. (3) Chance arrests Carl Cody (John Turturro), one of Masters’ mules, at LAX. (4) Masters meets his muse, Bianca Torres (Debra Feuer), at a club where she performs.


Kino Lorber is at the head of the class for 4K UHD titles, and “To Live and Die in L.A.” (1.85: 1 aspect ratio) further cements its rep. Scanned from the original 35 mm camera negative, the new HDR/Dolby Vision Master is outstanding. The details pop, the grain is fittingly cinematic, and the contrast is sharp. What really grabs you, though, are the saturated colors. Friedkin and cinematographer Robby Müller (“Paris, Texas”) don’t ignore chichi Los Angeles, but this story unfolds far from West Hollywood. The HDR toning gives the palette an organic look that pinpoints the setting. Cliché ahead: The film has never looked better.

The HDR peak brightness hits 1349 nits and averages a high 626, while the video bit rate runs mostly around 75 Megabits per second, give or take. The film is encoded onto a 100-gigabit disc. The enclosed Blu-ray is also sourced from the new 4K master and looks excellent.

With English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mixes, it sounds damn good, too. Like many films of the period, the audio is mostly directed to the front channels. Still, there’s plenty of depth and separation, and the dialogue is always clear. Then there’s the unforgettable score by U.K. New Wavers Wang Chung. When Friedkin recruited them for their first film job, his only requirement was that they write a theme without lyrics. They delivered – in spades – with the propulsive “City of the Angels.” You’d never guess that these were the same guys who busted out with “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.”

(1) Darlanne Fluegel plays Ruth Lanier, the parolee who Chance squeeze for information and uses sexually. (2&3) Chance begins shaking things up to get a lead on Masters, while Masters sets up a prison hit on Cody. (4) The evidence burns.


There isn’t enough room to touch on everything in Friedkin’s commentary (OK, maybe there is), so here’s a little something to whet your appetite. He asked his casting director Bob Weiner, a writer for The Village Voice, to find the same kind of talent he did for “The French Connection,” namely, actors and actresses who weren’t familiar to audiences that could disappear into their roles. Weiner, who knew his way around New York’s theater circuit, first interviewed Gary Sinise (“Forrest Gump”), a member of Chicago’s renowned Steppenwolf Theater Company. He told Sinise that he wasn’t going to get the job and asked if he could recommend someone. Sinise told him he had a friend named Billy Petersen, who had his own Chicago troupe.

Weiner tracked him down to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada, where he was starring in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Weiner immediately called Friedkin in New York and told him he had to fly up and see this young actor whose performance as Stanley Kowalski didn’t borrow in the least from Marlon Brando’s iconic portrayal. Friedkin remembers being struck by Petersen’s intelligence, catlike movements, and command of the stage.

As Petersen recounts in another good extra, “Taking a Chance,” he flew to New York, met Friedkin in his apartment, chatted for 45 minutes, and read a scene from the movie with him. When they were done, Friedkin said he had the role and asked if he could recommend anyone. It just so happened that he had a friend named John Pankow who was appearing in “Equus” on Broadway. They improvised a scene before Petersen had to fly back to Canada and Pankow was hired.

“It was running and gunning – there were no rules,” Petersen recalls. “I learned more from working with William Friedkin and Michael Mann (‘Manhunter’) on my first two movies … it was an education that you couldn’t get in 20 years” in Hollywood.

All of the extras were picked up from earlier releases by MGM and Shout! Factory. The others include interviews with Wang Chung’s Nick Feldman and Jack Hues; one with Debra Feuer (“Homeboy”), who plays Masters’ muse Bianca Torres; a piece on the film’s incredible stunts (Petersen, a former college football player, did most of his own); and the making-of feature “Counterfeit World.”

In his commentary, Friedkin says he “tends to go instinctively” when casting his films. His fans, though, know full well the wider implications of that understatement.

His instincts were never sharper here.

Craig Shapiro

(1&2) Judge Filo Cedillo (Valentin de Vargas) listens to Chance’s request to release Cody from prison so he can lead the agent to Masters. (3) John Vukovich (John Pankow), Chance’s new partner, confers with Masters’ attorney, Bob Grimes (Dean Stockwell). (4) Posing as a businessman and doctor from Palm Springs, the agents meet with Masters to set up a deal to buy his “paper.”


The Chase

(1-5) Chance and Vukovich steal $50,000 from a man who they think is in town to buy drugs. He’s really undercover FBI, and when he’s accidentally killed, they barrel into oncoming traffic on an L.A. freeway. Some 200 stunt drivers were used for a chase that is every bit as thrilling as the one director William Friedkin pulled off for “The French Connection.”


(1) Chance tracks Cody to his apartment. (2&3) Vukovich and Chance press on as they close in on Masters. (4) Vukovich chases Masters into a warehouse where he’s trying to burn the counterfeit money.


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