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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:

  • All for Nothing:
    • Chance's efforts to entrap Masters to arrest him are so heavily against the rules by the end that it's possible it would be inadmissible in court anyway. Then Chance and Jack kill each other during the money exchange, and in a final confrontation, Masters reveals to Vukovich that he knew about his and Chance's involvement in the death of Agent Ling through his attorney, Bob Grimes, and makes it clear that he knew all along that Chance was attempting to set him up and merely played along, likely because he figured, (along with the audience) that all of Chance's rule-breaking to get to him would indeed make everything inadmissible in court. The only thing that slightly goes Chance's way is that Vukovich kills Masters as Masters is attempting to kill him, and Chance kills Jack before he dies, thus getting some retribution over their involvement with killing Jimmy Hart, but Chance doesn't live to enjoy it.
    • Ruth sets up Chance to rob undercover Agent Thomas Ling to get Chance at least arrested, or worse. While she escapes being under Chance's thumb due to his death, Vukovich has figured out she set Chance up by sending him after Ling, has become the new Chance, and all her efforts were in vain, as she's now Vukovich's informant and in the exact same situation she was in with Chance.
  • 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.
  • And I Must Scream: Played with. Ruth is so desperate to get away from Chance that she sends him off after undercover FBI agent Thomas Ling in an attempt to get him busted by the FBI in the robbery attempt. At the end, after Vukovich has been "reborn" into a new incarnation of Chance, he makes it clear that he knows Ruth set Chance up and that now she's going to be his informant. Everything Ruth has done to escape from being under Chance's thumb becomes moot, she's going nowhere, and her situation is exactly the same, just with Vukovich instead of Chance.
  • 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.
  • Ax-Crazy: Chance has his moments. As does Ric Masters, such as when he bludgeons John Vukovich with a two by four and attempts to light him on fire during their final confrontation.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: The federal agents are a much greater danger to the public, themselves, and each other than the criminals they pursue.
    • And the competition is fierce between the Secret Service and the FBI in terms of which agency is more incompetent.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Narrowly averted. Masters not only has a hand in the death of his nemesis, Chance, but he also has time to destroy the evidence of his entire counterfeiting operation before Vukovich is able to track him down. He reveals that he knows Chance and Vukovich were involved in the death of the FBI agent, and even subdues Vukovich and is in the process of burning him along with the counterfeiting evidence. The only thing that prevents Masters from winning entirely is that Vukovich recovers and kills Masters first.
  • 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."
  • 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. The first is a shotgun to the head, and it's not a Pretty Little Headshot.
  • 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.
    • Also, John Vukovich is this in the beginning of the film, and very slowly gets corrupted and bent by Chance to do Chance's bidding. Even then, as the film progresses, the further against the book Chance goes, the harder it is for him to bend Vukovich to his will, and even when Vukovich caves, it's clear it's ripping him apart.
  • Burn Baby Burn: One of Masters' first scenes has him burning one of his paintings.
  • Car Chase Shoot-Out: When an informant tells the Cowboy Cop about a courier arriving in town with money for a drug buy, 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.
  • 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.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Chance's plan to rob the drug courier is this. Instead of reporting Ruth's tip to his superiors, he decides to steal the courier's money so he can use it to get closer to Masters. Had he actually shared the information with the rest of the department, he might have learned that the courier was an undercover FBI agent participating in a sting operation.
  • Cowboy Cop: Chance, in spades. He even wears cowboy boots a lot of the time. Although in Chance's case, a lot of his plans blow up in his face and he has to work overtime to correct them. He sort of wins out at the end, but gets a shotgun blast to the face for his troubles
  • 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.
  • Death by Adaptation: Eric Masters is arrested at the end of the novel. In the film, he dies. Also, Chance doesn't die in a confrontation with Masters and Jack in the novel, instead he dies when he gets abusive towards "Ruth" and she shoots him to death.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The entire film is constructed on the idea that Chance and Masters are going to have a major confrontation and that Chance is going to win out, despite his against the law machinations. Then, Chance and Jack kill each other during the money exchange a good 10 minutes before the end, and it's left to Vukovich to ultimately finish what Chance started. He's successful, but it's at the expense of his morals, and he essentially becomes Chance himself, to the point of dressing in a similar way and even claiming Chance's informant Ruth for himself, likely expecting the same casual sex benefits that Chance enjoyed with her.
  • Demoted to Extra: In the novel, Jimmy Hart is one of the leading characters, and survives to the end of the novel, whereas in the film, he's shot to death by Masters early in the film's first act, likely to garner some sympathy for why Chance, who is obviously very close to Hart, goes so far and breaks so many rules to try to take down Masters.
  • 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.
  • For the Evulz: Masters reveals during the final confrontation with Vukovich that he knew he was being set up and that he knew (through Grimes) how Chance and Vukovich illegally obtained the additional money beyond the secret service stipend to meet Master's down payment amount, thus he was merely playing along in the entire operation, just for the fun of it, and likely because he knew anything they got on him would be inadmissible.
  • 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.
  • Frameup: During Chance and Vukovich's attempt to rob the man revealed to be Special Agent Thomas Ling, he's killed by wild rifle fire by the tailing FBI agents, though when they send the APB out to authorities, they conveniently blame the "robbers" (Chance and Vukovich) for Ling's death rather than outright admit they shot their own agent by mistake.
    • Also, Ruth sets up Chance to be taken down by the FBI. At the end, Vukovich mentions that she had to know Ling was an undercover agent, therefore, she was hoping at the very least that Chance would be arrested for mistakenly robbing Ling, though the outcome ended up far worse.
  • 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. Although they have understandable reasons for being frustrated with Chance.
    • 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 Chance arriving at Ruth's house and parking his truck, as though Chance really hasn't died, before the freeze frame and cut to credits.
  • The Joy of X: Popularized the "To Live and Die in [X]" title in media.
  • Karma Houdini: Vukovich never faces any prosecution for his role in the death of Thomas Ling. While he had a very limited role in it, (and while he and Chance were unaware Ling was undercover FBI) he still went along with the robbery at Chance's goading.
  • 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.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Played with. When Chance is chasing Carl Cody at the airport, William Friedkin and William Petersen were both in agreement that Chance should run on top of the rail of the horizontal escalator rather than push through people as Cody does as he flees, but the head of the airport was present when they were filming and didn't want to risk it, so they declined to allow it. Petersen suggested they film a "rehearsal" take, and did the run as they wanted. The airport management wasn't pleased, but they successfully got the shot.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: In the alternate ending Chance and Vukovich are reassigned to Alaska. The sequence was shot to appease the studio but the film was always intended to end the way it did
  • 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 take 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.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Played with. In the novel, Vukovich is arrested for the shady dealings he participated in with Chance, with the understanding that he'll plead out and get a moderately light sentence, as much of it was instigated by Chance himself.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Near the end, Chance is shot dead in a fight with the Big Bad's henchman, Jack. His death is very abrupt and undramatic, with no last-minute speech, and it's given no special attention.
  • Took a Level in Badass: For better or worse, at the end, it is revealed that the events of the film have turned the meek and straight-laced Vukovich into a Cowboy Cop like Chance was.
  • 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.
    • For that matter, Chance's entire sting operation to take Masters down falls into this. He's so impatient to get the money for Master's down payment demand that he follows the tip of his informant Ruth, who clearly resents having to work with him. This leads to him accidentally robbing an undercover FBI agent. Chance and Vukovich continue with the plan even though Masters knows they're lying about who they say they are (IE, he points out they don't have tans despite supposedly being rich guys from Florida). When Chance makes the payment drop of $50,000, Masters all but says he knows Chance's methods to secure it were illegal, and thus pretty much everything Chance will get on him will be inadmissible.
  • Understatement: The car chase ends with a radio report stating that there's a "minor tie-up" on the freeway.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: A guy standing on the railing of a bridge, psyching himself up to jump and nothing happens until he does a bungee jump.
  • 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.