TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. MGM/United Artists, 1985. William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, Debra Feuer, John Turturro, Darlanne Fluegel, Dean Stockwell. Screenplay by William Friedkin, based on the novel by Gerald Petievich. Director: William Friedkin.

   By the time To Live and Die in L.A. ended, I had lost track of the number of times characters had double-crossed one another in this neo-noir police procedural. Directed by William Friedkin, this is a visually captivating, synth-pop driven journey in Los Angeles’s back alleys and its concomitant back room dealing. From warehouses to freeways, from Beverly Hills to San Pedro, the movie presents an off kilter portrait of two Secret Service Agents pushed to the limits in their quest to take down an infamous counterfeiter.

   When Agent Richard Chance (William Petersen) learns that notorious counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe) is behind his partner’s murder, he decides that he’s quite literally willing to do whatever it takes to take Masters down. That means cheating, stealing, and killing. Whatever it takes.

   Soon enough, Chance has fellow Secret Service Agent Jon Vukovich (John Pankow) by his side, bending and breaking all the rules in the book. The two agents devise a scheme by which they will steal money from an illicit diamond dealer and utilize the cash to conduct their own off the book sting operation against Masters. What happens next is right out of the noir playbook. Not only does their plan go awry, it goes awry in the worst possible way. This leads Chance and Vukovich down a deadly path leading to an ultimate showdown with Masters and his henchman.

   While the plot will keep you guessing, the film isn’t necessarily a plot-driven work. Indeed, the movie is as much a visual tour of the seedy underbelly of LA as it is a crime story, with scenes and sequences amplified by soundtrack composed by the 1980s pop band Wang Chung. The opening sequence in which the President’s motorcade pulls into the Beverly Hilton, for instance, is well served by the title song, lending the movie a dramatic sense of place from the get go.

   Like the cars in the motorcade, the film is a journey into a fantastically noir vision of a counterfeiting mastermind and the men who ultimately bring him down. Look for the incredible chase sequence, one that rivals anything you’ve seen in Bullitt (1968) or The French Connection (1971). It’s a thrilling sequence in a remarkably effective and gritty crime film.