To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

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No matter how hard I try, I just cannot like this film in its entirety.

‘To Live and Die in L.A.’ is ultimately something of a snorefest; watch this with even a grain of lethargy and you’ll be lost. And that’s a shame, because there is much artistic merit to be found in the film. The killer Wang Chung soundtrack compliments stylish sequences throughout, and is especially effective when capturing the Los Angeles landscape. The opening montage is very striking both visually and aurally; the sequence showing Master’s counterfeiting procedure is also a pleasure to watch. Sadly though, the first twenty minutes and the closing credits of the film are the most interesting and engaging.

Surprisingly even its stylistic flair becomes tired, Wang Chung is overused and placed in sequences that just don’t require it. ‘To Live and Die in L.A.’ could’ve been far tauter; it rouses you from your catatonic state only a few times with its surprising violence and of course that famous lengthy car chase.

The premise is simply Richard Chance’s (William L. Peterson) relentless pursuit of a murderous counterfeiter named Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe) who has killed Chance’s partner and ‘best friend for seven years’. Chance, whose safety is hindered in the haze of his own hubris, is prepared to do whatever it takes to put an end to masters, even if it means breaking the law he enforces. Peterson’s anti-hero is certainly clichéd; when presented with his new partner John Vukovich (John Pankow), he delivers the common ‘You know I work alone’ trope.

In its entirety, ‘To Live and Die in L.A.’ is a superficial, viewer-unfriendly production that just doesn’t engage its audience. The characters are unsubstantial, the plot is tediously bloated and hard to follow and its aesthetic redeeming features soon become tired over its 1hr 56 minutes. Not even its director William Friedkin could save it; it wouldn’t be until his collaboration with writer Tracy Letts 20 years later that he would return to the form of ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘The French Connection’.

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Drive (2011)

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Gosling stomps his ‘Notebook’ past in the face.

Seldom has my opinion on a film changed so drastically.

I first saw the film in Romford on the way back from picking up my new car in Enfield, North London. Getting there had been hell. I was on the M25 and running late, but I decided to commit to seeing it, so I left the motorway and began to penetrate the Essex town. To my intense frustration, the roads were full of road works and were subsequently jammed, but by then it was too late to turn back, I had to see it through. Once the road works finally ended, the sat-nav kindly took me straight through the middle of the Romford shopping area, which was a cobbled street full of people, a place where I’m pretty sure cars weren’t allowed – I must have looked a right berk.

After much embarrassment and stress, I finally found the cinema and arrived at the screening just seconds before it began. The timing was great; however I was now in no mood to be watching a film.

‘Drive’ has a very simple premise. Ryan Gosling is ‘The Driver’, a quiet, enigmatic mechanic and stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for the underworld. His lonely existence changes when he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan), a sweet young mother who lives down the corridor from him. There is a clear connection between them, however her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns from prison before their not-so-platonic friendship comes to fruition. Standard is being stalked and threatened by criminals, to whom he owes a mounting debt, a debt which can only be paid through a pawn shop heist. For the sake of Irene and Benicio’s safety, The Driver conscientiously lends his getaway skills to the job, which of course goes horribly awry.

Gosling’s performance is good, he has a steely aura about him that is cold and convincing. However, I don’t think one should get carried away when steeping him in praise, I felt it wasn’t a particularly demanding role. While it is clear that he fits the mould of the laconic anti-hero, I was slightly bothered by the extent of his utter lack of conversational skills, particularly when he’s speaking to Irene. There are moments that are so painfully awkward that it could test the plausibility of their relationship. Gosling is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s iconic ‘Man with no name’ roles, but I also made a connection with Dustin Hoffman’s performance in ‘Rain Main’.

I was very ambivalent about the film. I liked the exciting car chase in the introduction, I liked Cliff Martinez’s stylish, haunting soundtrack; I also liked the visuals and the film’s unforgiving, visceral nature. The film is spattered with torrents of claret, stark shankings and devastating gunshot wounds – there’s also a spot of stomping. The film’s violence is ugly and nasty, it adds a brutal energy to the film. However, I had reservations with the lead character and particularly with its thin plot and meagre ending; I left the cinema feeling hollow and thinking it was all rather vapid.

Despite all of this, the film had definitely got under my skin, I was thinking about it regularly. Eventually, I had to give it a second viewing.

Being at home without the aforementioned stresses and knowing the framework of the film, I was able to enjoy it a whole lot more. I was engrossed from the start, relishing the style and edginess of it all. My past reservations took a back seat; it had gone up in my estimations two-fold. It was on my second viewing that I was able to appreciate the innate coolness of its leading actor. How on earth did he possibly make a white padded jacket with a yellow scorpion on the back cool? Oh and the driving gloves, they just reek of cool, and that black roaring Ford Mustang – I am so impressionable. It really got my heart pumping; I couldn’t believe how the film had grown on me.

Ultimately, though, like so many films, especially those that fall into the revenge/retribution format (think Death Wish/Taxi Driver), they’re good until the last stanza, they’re hard to wrap up. However, I even preferred the ending on second viewing – out of the ways they could’ve ended it, this was probably the most appropriate choice. While it is indeed a trifle shallow, if you watch ‘Drive’ on a massive television with an equally massive sound system, it is guaranteed to be a visual and aural treat.

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