‘To Live and Die in L.A.’ 4K Ultra HD movie review

Director William Friedkin’s 1985 graphic crime thriller richly debuts in the ultra-high definition format in To Live and Die in L.A. (Kino Lorber, rated R, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 116 minutes, $39.95).

Adapted from a novel by former Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich, the story, set in Los Angeles, focuses on Secret Service agent Richard Chance (William Petersen) out for revenge after his partner of many years gets viciously murdered by expert counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe).

The overtly aggressive Chance along with his new partner John Vukovic (John Pankow) enters into a long pursuit with Masters, constantly one step behind him, as he wreaks vengeance on those who have wronged him while making deals to spread his fake money.

Life complicates when the agents go undercover to trap Masters and must break the law to get close to the counterfeiter, with potential deadly consequences.

Mr. Friedkin’s gritty action opus pulls no punches in pushing Chance’s skewed ethics in pursuit of criminals and even offers a bit of an education on creating fake $20 bills, showing off the intricate process and one of the cooler parts of the film.

The movie also highlights some too-intense graphic violence on the streets, including gunshots to multiple faces and a man burned alive, along with scenes of unnecessary nudity and one of the best car chases ever filmed.

4K in action: The opening scene of a hazy, glowing-red Los Angeles sunrise has two scratch lines across it to mar the effort put into the creation of a presentation that used a 4K scan created from the original camera negative.

Getting past that miscue, the screen-filling effort remaster shines forward maintaining strong color dynamics and consistent crisp visuals with only the occasional hint of film grain.

Details and hues to appreciate include a nearly screen-bursting close-up of Mr. Dafoe’s head, Masters wearing the darkest of black T-shirts while staring at a painting on fire, the fine touching up of counterfeit prints’ negatives, neon-green illumination bathing a strip club and watching with too-much-gooey specifics a human bomber explode.

Those looking for views of Los Angeles will love multiple scenes of various shades of oranges and purples from the various early morning and early evenings covering the city; waves of heat coming off of a bridge; and plenty of outdoor scenes with crisp blue, almost fake-looking, skies.

Best extras: Kino Lorber borrows the digital goodies from previous released disc versions of the film to offer a well-rounded selection of content.

First up, and always the most important, viewers can listen to the legendary director talk about his movie in an optional commentary track recorded back in 2003.

Introducing himself as Bill Friedkin, he says upfront that he would discuss impressions, thoughts and feelings about the movie without avoiding the more standard scene-specific discussions of background and breakdowns.

He stresses that he wanted to create the surrealistic life of a Secret Service agent, one minute guarding the president and another chasing guys passing a fake $20.

Mr. Friedkin often takes about the themes of the criminal versus cop, the process of working with actors, character motivations and thoughts on censorship especially in regard to violence in movies.

He also peppers in the anecdotes such as asking Wang Chung to not write a song that has the lyric “to live and die in L.A” (they ignored him); using an actual reformed counterfeiter to explain and reproduce the process; playing 3-on-3 basketball with Mr. Petersen against the inmates while filming the prison scene; and copying the robe designs of French artist Matisse for the Kabuki dance sequence.

The entire commentary shines with a very knowledgeable director explaining his craft and his motivations with only a few areas of dead air.

Next, viewers get multiple interview segments from the 2016 Shout Factory Blu-ray release (more than 75 minutes) highlighting Mr. Peterson, actress Debra Feuer (Masters’ girlfriend Bianca Torres), actor Dwier Brown (a doctor questioned by the agent) and stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker.

All are packed with anecdotes from the filming and make for a very entertaining collection of extras for fans.

Best of the interview bunch are the members of Wang Chung, Nick Feldman and Jack Hues spending 13 minutes talking about creating the musical score. They had never worked on movies but enjoyed the pointed direction of Mr. Friedkin telling them to go into the studio and be brilliant.

And, they were grateful to not be in the studio trying to write the next hit pop song. They did write the titled theme song, going against the director’s instruction, but it was so appreciated that Mr. Friedkin reshot the opening to fit the song better.

Next, a vintage retrospective from 2003 offers a 30-minute standard overview with cast and crew interviews covering the basics down to the story, the actors, the themes and the director with plenty of behind-the-scenes still and footage.

Also, viewers get a look at the infamous alternate ending, thoroughly explained by the director, editor and actors. Thankfully, Mr. Friedkin was not forced to use it by the studio.

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