To Live and Die in L.A. (William Friedkin / U.S., 1985):

The first movement gives you the Eighties -- not merely Reagan's voice cameo but the definite statement of the MTV aesthetics as the body parts from an exploding jihadist become another set of lights in the Angelino night sky. William L. Petersen is a Secret Service agent who gazes down the precipice and leaps with bungee cord, Willem Dafoe employs paint on canvases and funny money with equal dexterity; both are urban obsessives with matching blonde informers, a debased system is the only thing classifying one as "hero" and the other as "villain." Petersen's elder partner seals his own doom with a hack line ("I got three more days on the job..."), his vengeful takedown of the culprit involves bullying a suspect (John Turturro), exploiting an informant (Darlanne Fluegel), and corrupting his new sidekick (John Pankow). Metallic blues, shades, and leather jackets abound, but William Friedkin knows real style and equates all of this to counterfeit currency, "just motherfucking paper." Dafoe's skull-faced underworld purist is bound to the elongated face he's just painted, which is ceremoniously burned -- art here is a steady descent into this icy Hades, offhand abstractions of the city at dusk, a well-timed car chase. Fluegel's affecting somnambulism ("The stars are God's eyes") posits Joseph H. Lewis's The Big Combo as the basis, the demon's painted face in The Exorcist belongs here to Debra Feuer's nightclub performance troupe, the trademark Friedkin transference happens with Pankow assuming the mantle of the fallen, soulless daredevil. The whole thing is shot with a steely concentration that most assuredly impressed Takeshi Kitano, but left reviewers with a "bad taste" in the mouth. Then again, how else to express yourself from deep within a decade's tank of ear-pounding synthesizers and color filters, if not by curdling them? Cinematography by Robby Müller. With Dean Stockwell, Michael Greene, and Robert Downey, Sr.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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