With The French Connection, director William "Battling Billy" Friedkin set himself on-par with Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Coppola, and Robert Altman as one of the premier directors of the early '70s. To Live and Die in L.A. is advertised as the "sequel" to that darkly cynical police thriller, but it's more like a bookend. It blisters Los Angeles the way Connection revealed New York to be a stinking, dirty, noisy hell, and as in the first film, Friedkin's mastery over set design, cinematography (with Robby Müller), and pacing (with editors Bud and Scott Smith) is visible in every frame. The film even has a massive chase scene like Connection's, though this time it heads the wrong way on a freeway. The soundtrack by the rock group Wang Chung pulses and throbs marvelously with the movie: Friedkin cut some scenes to the soundtrack, instead of the reverse, which is how it usually works. So what's not to love about To Live and Die in L.A.? The film is a bit overripe. At times it's so overheated it slips into near-parody. It's also poisoned by the corrosive cynicism Friedkin deliberately seeds it with. Whereas Connection's Roy Scheider and Gene Hackman had a comfortably well-worn partnership as narcs and Fernando Rey's villain had a reserved charm, all of To Live and Die in L.A.'s characters are venomous or coldly indifferent. One can credit Friedkin's courage in making a film with characters so easily disliked, but it makes To Live and Die in L.A. a tough film to sit through.
by Nick Sambides, Jr. review