To Live and Die in L.A.

To Live and Die in L.A. ★★★½

A very mixed bag for me, but a truly fascinating watch nonetheless. The obvious comparison pieces for this film are Friedkin's previous French Connection, and the work of Michael Mann, which is perhaps inevitable with Manhunter star William Petersen in the lead. While I like the gritty, immediate style of The French Connection, I think this is the superior film in many aspects. For starters, the angle of "reckless cop driven mad by obsession" works better here because it is introduced earlier and has more of an understandable reason behind it, sparked by the murder of Chance's partner. That being said, the obsession angle still never really works, because his partner is a generic "I'm too old for this shit, and only a few days away from retirement!" cliche who has no personality. While the straightforward procedural style of The French Connection is missed here to some extent, I find the gaudy, almost operatic decadence of plot and style to be more compelling to watch. The action scenes and set-pieces almost uniformly improve on The French Connection, including a truly riveting car chase that perhaps goes a bit too overboard in an attempt to top what Friedkin made before. This film is constantly preoccupied with looking cool as fuck, and while it definitely succeeds on that front it also falls victim to that inescapable 80's pomposity.

This film doesn't quite reach the level of masterpiece in the way that Manhunter and other Mann films do. However, while Friedkin dabbles in some of the same thematic concerns and stylistic interests as Mann, to dismiss it as a shallow imitator isn't quite doing it justice. Crucially, Friedkin undercuts much of the macho hero worship bullshit that plagues most late-period Mann with humor, homoeroticism, and things constantly going wrong for nearly every character. I got a lot of enjoyment out of how almost everybody here is constantly lying or fucking up for no real reason at all, other than perhaps the overblown male ego, though the film isn't really interested in pursuing those threads. The sudden and bold shift in perspective near the end really had me on board - but the gross final scene (which like The French Connection, hinges on a rushed and unbelievable evolution of a character that clashes from what we've previously seen throughout the entire runtime) left a really sour note on the whole procedure.

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