To Live and Die in L.A. (Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray)

A fearless Secret Service agent will stop at nothing to bring down the counterfeiter who killed his partner.

August 8, 2023 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

The year is 1985. I was almost reaching double digits and my house made great use of our VCR. Lucky for us, the mom-and-pop video store that we belonged to was just down the street from us and what was great was the owners like to give us the inside track on little hidden treasure rentals that were in the movies, didn’t do as well, but were worth the rent. One of those rentals answered a question of where some great instrumental music advertising movies on a local channel’s Saturday or Sunday afternoon/night movie came from. It was a piece from the group Wang Chung from the score that they did for a William Friedkin thriller called To Live and Die in L.A. Not too long after that discovery, I was introduced to the film with the score intact and from that moment on, it became one of my first intriguing movie rental experiences.

Richard Chance (William L. Petersen) is a Secret Service agent out for revenge at any cost. After a lead on a counterfeiter named Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe) results in the death of his partner, Chance stretches every law in the book to catch his man even at the cost of his new partner’s (John Pankow) sanity.

It seems like every decade since the 1970’s, William Friedkin has put his stamp on the gritty authority cat-and mouse thriller complete with a quotable intelligent screenplay (which in this case he wrote with the author of the book), first rate filmmaking and an amazing chase scene either by foot, by car or in some occasions, both. This film is no exception and turns up top notch performances from it’s ensemble, as well as some twists, turns and a surprise or two along the way.

Like I said at the beginning of the piece, one of my favorite aspects of this movie is the score by Wang Chung. I also noticed use of their big hit “Dance Hall Days” in one scene. Every time I think about the movie the score plays in the back of my head and I want to see the movie again and I’m glad to see that the film is back in the hands of it’s original studio MGM and given the Special Edition treatment on DVD.

Video: How does it look?

I honestly can’t remember the last time I sat down and watched this one. But I will say that some of Kino’s new 4K discs are nothing to bawk at. That said, the gritty 80’s look of L.A. in the 1.85:1 HEVC has a vibrance of colors which was a common thing in most mid-80’s movies, but it also had a pretty clean print free of most scratches and dirt without oversaturating the soft colors as well as a nice levels of blacks. A large amount of dirt and debris is gone, detail has been improved and as is the case with catalog movies making the leap to 4K – it’s hard to spot a lot of flaws. This one is a home run.

Audio: How does it sound?

The DTS HD Master audio mix is quite a vibrant one, especially with Wang Chung’s score. It blasts with the gunshots and heavy breathing during the car chase. The dialogue balances out nicely indeed from the center to the effects and the score in all channels. Granted, this isn’t the most audio heavy film out there, but for what it is – it’s a major improvement over the previously-released DVD.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This culminates the supplements from MGM’s DVD and Shout’s Blu-ray from a few years back. In other words, this edition makes the others obsolete.

Disc One (4K)

  • Audio Commentary – We’re treated to an audio commentary with the director William Friedkin. He shares a lot of great stories on this track as well as covering all filmmaking grounds nicely not drifting too much into screen description. A very entertaining track and worth many listens.

Disc Two (Blu-ray)

  • Audio Commentary – Same as above.
  • Taking a Chance: Interview with Actor William Petersen – Essentially that. We get a pretty candid discussion (archival material) as to Petersen’s motivations for taking the role, his approach and so forth.
  • Renaissance Woman in L.A.: Interview with Actress Debra Feuer – Similar to the above, Feuer recalls her casting, the need for improvisation and her particular approach to the character.
  • Doctor for a Day: Interview with actor Dwier Brown – Completing the “hat trick” of interviews with the stars, we get some comments from Brown who, like the above, tells us of the approach, working with Friedken and so on.
  • So in Phase – Scoring To Live and Die in L.A.: Interview with. Composers Wang Chung
  • Wrong Way – The Stunts of To Live and Die in L.A. – Stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker regales us with some stories from the film, how they played into the movie and how he and Friedken were able to make it work.
  • Counterfeit World – The Making of To Live and Die in L.A. – This includes most of the main players in the film along with the director and some of the crew. It does repeat some of the info from the commentary as well as additional thoughts from the cast. A very well put together 22 minutes by Michael Arick, who’s also done impressive documentary work on Friedkin’s The Hunted DVD.
  • Deleted Scened and Alternate Ending with Introductions – We do get an introduction to this scene that I actually liked. It’s a shame it was changed as I prefer this one. Oh well.
  • Theatrical Teaser and Theatrical Trailer

The Bottom Line

I usually try not to date my reviews, but this is being written on August 8, 2023 – the day after director William Friedken left us. No doubt he’ll go down as the man behind The Exorcist, but there are some gems in his film repertoire and, as you might have guessed, this is one of them. Kino’s disc delivers reference-quality video, solid audio and has combined the supplements from Shout and MGM’s discs. This is one to add to the library.

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