Over a decade after filmmaker William Friedkin created one of the all-time best car chases with The French Connection, he returned to do it again in To Live and Die in L.A. The William Petersen-starring 1985 crime thriller arrives in long-awaited 4K Ultra HD courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics with an absolutely gorgeous 2160p presentation aided by Dolby Vision HDR. While no supplements have been added to this package, Kino compiles all the previous supplements from the 2003 MGM DVD and 2016 Shout Factory Blu-ray. As Willem Dafoe says in the film, “Your taste is in your @$$.” If you have taste, then this release comes Highly Recommended!
If The French Connection detailed the dogged and fatal determination of a person in the line of duty, then To Live and Die in L.A. takes it a step further to muddy the morals of a cops-and-robbers plot with the modernist techniques of a tinkerer. And Friedkin is certainly a grand tinkerer. Just look at the color grading debacle that has been created over the years by The French Connection on physical media. As with Friedkin’s other works, the story is firmly based in pulp. That’s where the neo-noir leanings come from, but the exaction, attention to the transfer of power and the sun-baked decadence of 1980s Los Angeles? That’s all the leanings of a filmmaker destined to find something much deeper, scarier, and even surrealistic within genre tropes.
Secret Service Agents Richard Chance (William Petersen) and Jimmy Hart (Michael Greene) are assigned to be counterfeiting investigators in Los Angeles, setting them on a path to investigate Eric “Rick” Masters (Willem Dafoe), an evil and elusive counterfeiter. Unbeknownst to his superiors, Chance is a bit crooked and nothing will stop him from taking down Masters, even if that means he has to stoop to his level. And after Chance’s partner is murdered by Masters’ bodyguard, he really will stop at nothing to get the perp.
For context, I’ve seen To Live and Die in L.A. a great many times and find it to be much more enthralling and transfixing than the straightforward neo-noirs of which it shares a common space. Part of that is due to the film’s very unique structure, one which breaks off into tangents to further explore the downside of human worth in the face of capital. Similar to noir, Friedkin is unsentimental when his characters are riddled with bullets, as they’ll only be replaced by someone with a thirst for capital. Such a statement doesn’t overwhelm the film, for it revels in the aesthetics of a visual master with these huge set pieces that bring key visual ideas to breathtaking life.
That downbeat pessimism that sends the final moments of The French Connection across like a gut punch? It’s even more amplified here, and when it all plays against that brash and poppy Wang Chung soundtrack, the venom is modernized for the audience. Many of the things we see in To Live and Die in L.A. have been depicted before in other noirs, but it takes the wherewithal of a filmmaker to reflect on them within a modern setting while also focusing on what makes those tropes tick.
If you’re a fan of rollicking, hot, and nasty crime thrillers, then throw on some neon shorts, sit back and relax as To Live and Die in L.A. is sure to whet your appetite. Oh, and make sure to double feature this with 52 Pick-Up, another nasty neo-noir made by an essential filmmaker (John Frankenheimer).
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
“I got a friend in Hollywood, Donald Duck. You know him?” Secret Service Agent Richard Chance is on the move in To Live and Die in L.A., presented here as a two-disc 4K Blu-ray and Blu-ray edition. The two discs – UHD100 for the 4K Blu-ray and BD50 for the standard Blu-ray – are housed in a standard black case with theatrical artwork on the front. A slipcover with the same art goes over the case, and both discs boot up to standard menu screens with options to play the film, set up audio and video, browse chapters and explore bonus features.
As mentioned in the product details, this 2160p presentation is sourced from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, and I’m ecstatic to report that this is the best the film has ever looked at home. One big attraction in To Live and Die in L.A. is the work by cinematographer Robby Müller, with all those gorgeous stylistic flourishes and bright, poppy neon lights that cut through the darkness like a knife. The smog-tinged look of 80s-era L.A. looks terrific here as well, and flesh tones are tuned in just right and don’t look too rosy. The soft nature of 80s-era film stocks is honored here as well, as things don’t look too sharp and grain is handled well by the HEVC encode. The Dolby Vision HDR grade boosts overall contrast and color density without blowing highlights out, and the intensity of the opening credits in HDR luckily subsides as they disappear. As for damage, I did notice some dirt in the title cards and a couple of damage marks in the film, but otherwise, this is a very clean presentation throughout.
As for audio options, both English 5.1 and 2.0 tracks are offered here in the DTS-HD MA codec. The film was originally released with Dolby Stereo, so the 2.0 track here is a fold-down in some form or another, although I’m not sure if it’s just a fold-down of the 5.1 mix or not. Either way, this a front-focused audio presentation that rarely occupies the surround channels, however, I give the edge to the 5.1 track for its deeper bass and better handling of the soundtrack. I didn’t notice any damage in the tracks either. Very nice and fluid presentations!
As mentioned previously, no new supplements are provided with this release. However, the package of previously produced supplements is quite nice. The interviews with actor William Petersen and actress Debra Feuer are still very nice and plucky with plenty of production details cast about. The Friedkin audio commentary is similarly great, as the filmmaker luckily avoids narrating what’s happening in each scene to give listeners his impressions on the making of the film. Even though nothing new is included, this is still a nice package of supplements.
Secret Service Agent Richard Chance is on the hunt for a violent counterfeiter, and the town of Los Angeles is his stage in To Live and Die in L.A. Kino Lorber Studio Classic’s new 4K Blu-ray and Blu-ray edition of this classic 1985 crime thriller presents the film with a stellar 2160p presentation aided by Dolby Vision HDR and a worthwhile collection of supplements to dig into. This release comes Highly Recommended!