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Film / To Live and Die in L.A.

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To Live and Die in L.A. is a 1985 American action/crime thriller film, based on the novel of the same name by Gerald Petievich and directed by William Friedkin.

The film stars William Petersen as Secret Service agent Richard Chance, a maverick type determined to take down Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe), the counterfeiter who shot Chance's partner. It also features an exceptionally '80s soundtrack by Wang Chung.

Now has a character sheet in progress.

This Movie Contains Examples Of:

  • Amoral Attorney: Bob Grimes (Dean Stockwell) doesn't particularly care that Masters is a criminal and argues that he's just doing the job someone else would; when he helps the cops later on, he's solely looking out for his own neck and his own wallet. Until it's revealed that he was trying to manipulate Vukovich on Masters' behalf the whole time.
  • Arrested for Heroism: Almost happens to Chance in the airport.
  • Art-Style Dissonance: With the violent amorality on screen, you'd expect this film to employ a Real Is Brown aesthetic. Instead, it goes for a glossy look reminiscent of Miami Vice. The contrast is rather jarring.
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  • Ax-Crazy: Chance has his moments.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: The federal agents are a much greater danger to the public, themselves, and each other than the criminals they pursue.
  • Batman Cold Open: The film opens with Jimmy Hart and Richard Chance working the Presidential Protection detail at the Beverly Hilton hotel where Reagan is giving a speech. When leaving the presidential suite to begin his part of the shift rotation, he notices a hotel porter with a room service tray crossing the end of the hall before the sound of him entering the stairwell is heard. On a whim, Chance goes to the entrance of the stairwell where he sees the tray sitting on the ground. Upon removing the lid on the plate and seeing it empty, he calls in the suspicious character and head heads after him, with Jimmy overhearing him on his earpiece. Chance heads for the roof where he finds an unconscious or dead L.A.P.D. officer before seeing the porter attaching a rappel line to some pipe jutting out of the roof and wearing a suicide vest with intention of assassinating President Reagan. Chance confronts the man who then puts his hands on the detonator cord and begins stating his willingness to die and cursing Israel and the U.S. Chance attempts to talk the terrorist down to no avail but while the terrorist rants he notices that Jimmy has somehow managed to get just below the terrorist on the edge of the roof. Jimmy pulls the man off the roof just as he pulls the cord and he explodes after falling a short distance off the roof. Shortly after, Chance and Jimmy sit on the roof tired and weary before Chance states, "Let's get out of here Jimmy. Go play some cards, get drunk." Clutching his shoulder and heavily panting, the elder Secret Service agent tiredly remarks, "I'm gettin' too old for this shit."
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  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Have fun figuring out who's gray.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Every other death in the movie is given this treatment; you'd be surprised at the amount of times someone is shot in the face in particular.
  • Break the Badass: Vukovich. As the movie progresses, Chance's behavior takes an increasing toll on the poor guy, leading to several meltdowns and a Heroic BSoD.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Quite literally Chance's superior, Bateman, who is able to cite regulations chapter and verse, and actually has "the book" to hand.
  • Burn Baby Burn: One of Masters' first scenes has him burning one of his paintings.
  • Chase Scene: One of the most celebrated in cinema.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: This movie is somewhat harsh on swearing, with a huge amount of F-bombs years before Quentin Tarantino and his movie Reservoir Dogs.
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: Inverted when Chance and Vukovich's robbery for buy money ends up wrecking an unrelated FBI sting operation.
  • Counterfeit Cash: Masters is a Master Forger.
  • Crapsack World: Let's just say Friedkin's Los Angeles is not a sunny one despite the slick 80s visual aesthetic.
  • Creator Cameo: Former Secret Service agent and author Gerald Petievich, who wrote the book the film is based on, appears in a cameo as a fellow Secret Service agent.
  • Dead Sidekick: Jimmy Hart (Michael Green), embodies this trope; because he's getting too old for this, he decides to retire to spend more time fishing; two days before retirement, he bites the bullet.
  • Deconstruction: Of the Cowboy Cop trope. Chance's rule-breaking has serious, negative consequences: His withholding of information from his superiors makes them unwilling to help him, the convict he manages to bully the DA into releasing beats him up and escapes, his plan to get the buy money for the sting goes horribly wrong, and while the sting does go down, he gets himself killed in the process. Furthermore, although the movie ends with Vukovich becoming the new maverick cop, in the process he abandons all sense of morality, becoming little better than Chance himself.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Serena, Bianca at the end, and quite possibly Masters himself.
  • Downer Ending: Chance dies during the sting, causing Vukovich to have a mental breakdown and kill Masters, but not before the latter destroyed all the evidence of his crimes by torching his downtown warehouse. Not only that, Vukovich essentially becomes the new Chance, and makes Ruth his bitch.
  • Down L.A. Drain: The car chase includes a section where Chance and Vukovich are pursued through the L.A. storm drains.
  • The Dragon: Jack, to Masters.
  • The '80s: Ronald Reagan, Wang Chung, fantastic big hair, and truly retro credits fonts.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Chance or Masters... who is worse?
  • Flock of Wolves: An informant tells the Cowboy Cop about a courier arriving in town with money for a drug buy. As his superiors won't approve the sting money he needs to entice the Big Bad, he and his partner decide to rob the courier, only to find themselves shot at (the courier is accidentally killed by a stray bullet) and chased by an ever-increasing number of well-armed men with vehicles and radio communication. The two cops barely escape, only to be briefed next day about an FBI sting operation that went wrong and resulted in the death of an undercover agent.
  • Foreshadowing: Masters’ first scene shows him burning what appears to be a stylised self-portrait. He accidentally sets himself on fire before Vukovich empties his gun into him.
  • Friend or Foe: Thomas Ling, the undercover FBI man is actually shot by his fellow agents. They've parked their vehicle on an overpass and are shooting at the robbers with an Armalite rifle when another vehicle crashes into theirs. A startled agent clutches at the rifleman's shoulder and the weapon discharges, with the bullet killing Ling himself.
  • Groin Attack: Done multiple times, by multiple characters to multiple characters.
  • Guilt-Ridden Accomplice: Vukovich.
  • Heroic BSoD: Vukovich, after the robbery of the FBI agent goes bad.
  • Hollywood Police Driving Academy: Avoided: Chance pulls off the LA equivalent of flying the Millennium Falcon into an asteroid field with flying colors.
  • The Infiltration: Chance tries to do an undercover sting on Masters.
  • The Informant: Bianca, Ruth.
  • Invisible President: Chance and Jimmy are part of the Secret Service detail protecting Ronald Reagan, who is heard delivering a speech.
  • Jerkass: Chance is a dick.
    • Also, Judge Cirillo and Thomas Bateman.
    • Pretty much any named character who isn't Jimmy Hart, Ruth, or John Vukovich. At least until the end of the film where he becomes essentially the reincarnation of Chance. Driven home when upon telling Ruth, "You're workin' for me now" at the end, she has flashbacks to her trysts with Chance. Driven (in this case literally) even further where after that scene, there's a short sequence that shows a later point where Vukovich is now even driving Chance's truck and parks at Ruth's house before the freeze frame and cut to credits.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Chance. He dives headfirst into any kind of dangerous situation, both on and off the job. According to his first partner, he should learn to take it easy every now and then, otherwise he won't live to see retirement. And... he doesn't in the end.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: During one of Chance's "visits" with Ruth, his girlfriend/informant.
  • Meaningful Echo: When Chance delivers the down payment money, Masters checks one of the bills for authenticity, then purrs "You're beautiful." Later, when Chance and Vukovich meet with Masters to pick up the actual funny money, Chance repeats both the bill-check and Masters' line - before initiating the arrest.
  • Meaningful Name: Richard Chance, Rick Masters.
  • Mutual Kill: Masters' henchman, Jack and Chance himself at the film's near end.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Pretty much every one of Chance's actions during the investigation results in this, especially when he accidentally gets an undercover FBI agent killed while sticking him up to get the money for his sting operation.
  • Nothing Personal: Masters' sentiment as he shoots Chance's partner.
    Masters: Buddy, you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Off on a Technicality: Grimes mentions that he got someone off because he argued that a search warrant which imprecisely described the color of a house was invalid.
  • Pop-Star Composer: The film boasts songs by Wang Chung.
  • Rabid Cop: Chance is a violent cop who's brash with authority figures, doesn't like it when the rules get in the way of his plans, takes evidence without following protocol and, oh yes, uses blackmail and armed robbery to further his investigation. All in the name of justice, mind you.
    Chance: I'm gonna bag Masters, and I don't give a shit how I do it.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: In the alternate ending Chance is reassigned to Alaska.
  • Retirony: Jimmy Hart himself ends up getting killed by Jack and Masters, while investigating their warehouse.
  • Revenge Before Reason: This is what eventually defines Chance.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The film ends with Masters dead, but just seconds after he successfully managed to burn all evidence of his crimes, making Chance's psychotic crusade to bring him to justice completely worthless even if we didn't took into account the fact Masters killed Chance.
  • Shown Their Work: The counterfeiting montage looks authentic because Friedkin consulted actual counterfeiters who had done time. The "consultant" actually did the scenes that do not show Willem Dafoe on camera to give this sequence more authenticity even though the actor learned how to print money.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Both Chance and Vukovich.
  • Sociopathic Hero: By the mid-point Chance has been established as one, engineering a robbery to get the money Masters asked, but even before that, he casually mistreats his girlfriend/informant Ruth, and he says he'd immediately get her back in jail should she ever stop being his CI.
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • The film looked and felt enough like Miami Vice that Michael Mann tried to sue for plagiarism. He wasn't successful. Ironically, William Petersen's performance in the film is what convinced Mann to cast him in Manhunter.
    • Well, maybe. William Friedkin has said that "Michael Mann and I have been good friends for 30 years".
    • If you watch a double-bill of this and Repo Man, you'll notice that both films feature (a) cinematography by Robby Müller and (b) car chases in the LA storm drains.
  • The Joy of X: Popularized the "To Live and Die in [X]" title in media.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: One of the scenes in the second half of the movie is this. One of the two fellow agents who were trying to rescue Ling, was shooting at Chance and Vukovich, the robbers, only for him to get startled when another vehicle crashes into theirs. The rifleman's weapon then discharges, killing the victim of the robbery himself.
  • Understatement: The car chase ends with a radio report stating that there's a "minor tie-up" on the freeway.
  • Villain Protagonist: Chance happens to be this as a result of his extreme actions in the name of justice and/or revenge.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Chance manages to re-capture Cody. We never learn what he did with him, as the film cuts to the pre-planned stakeout to get Masters.


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