Decided to revisit William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) in the wee hours this past Sunday morning. As much as I loved aspects of Killer Joe (2011), I still think this is Friedkin's last truly great film (to date), as well as being one of the classic crime thrillers of 1980s American cinema, and a film that seems to perfectly capture the essence of L.A.'s seedy underbelly during that decade. Reagan's America and the extremes of excess and desperation which its economy spawned are so well reflected in the film, and William Peterson makes a charismatic and engrossing, yet reckless and unlikeable, Secret Service anti-hero. In one of his earliest roles, the future CSI star really delivers a performance full of cocksure arrogance, and I'm glad Friedkin left the film's original bleak ending intact (at the request of producers, he did film a happier ending, which would have robbed the film of much of its satisfaction and kick. The happy ending is included on the DVD as a special feature). Willem Dafoe also shines here as the main villain, a charismatic, complex and brooding artist who moonlights as an expert counterfeiter. Supporting roles by Dean Stockwell, John Turturro and late action/exploitation star Steve James add weight to the story, and it seemed an inspired choice to have 80's new wave pop group Wang Chung (Dance Hall Days) compose and perform the soundtrack. The film looks beautiful as well, and is wonderfully edited (particularly during the counterfeiting sequence and a white-knuckle car chase into oncoming traffic). I've never read the novel by Gerald Petievich which the film is based on, but I must remember to hunt it down someday.