To Live and Die in L.A. is a 1985 American thriller film directed by William Friedkin and based on the novel by former U.S. Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich, who co-wrote the screenplay with Friedkin. The film features William Petersen, Willem Dafoe and John Pankow among others. Wang Chung composed and performed the original music soundtrack. The film tells the story of the lengths to which two Secret Service agents go to arrest a counterfeiter.
Richard Chance and Jimmy Hart are United States Secret Service agents assigned as counterfeiting investigators in its Los Angeles field office. Chance has a reputation for reckless behavior, while Hart is three days away from retirement. Alone, Hart stakes out a warehouse in the desert thought to be a print house of counterfeiter Rick Masters. After Masters and Jack, his bodyguard, kill Hart, Chance explains to his new partner, John Vukovich, that he will take Masters down no matter what.
The two agents attempt to get information on Masters by putting one of his criminal associates, attorney Max Waxman, under surveillance. Vukovich falls asleep on watch, and consequently they fail to catch Masters in the act of murdering Waxman. While Vukovich wants to go by the book, Chance becomes increasingly reckless and unethical in his efforts to catch Masters. While Chance relies on his sexual-extortion relationship with parolee/informant Ruth for information, Vukovich meets privately with Masters' attorney, Bob Grimes. Grimes, acknowledging a potential conflict of interest that could ruin his legal practice, agrees to set up a meeting between his client and the two agents, who engage Masters by posing as bankers from Palm Springs interested in Masters' counterfeiting services. Masters is reluctant to work with them, but ultimately agrees to print them $1,000,000 worth of fake bills.
In turn, Masters demands $30,000 in front money, which is three times what the agents are legally able to obtain from their office. To get the money, Chance persuades Vukovich to aid him in robbing Thomas Ling, a man whom Ruth previously told Chance is bringing $50,000 cash to purchase stolen diamonds. Chance and Vukovich intercept Ling at the train station and seize the cash in an industrial area. Ling's contacts follow them, though, and they accidentally shot Ling in an ensuing shootout. Chance and Vukovich try to evade them through the streets, freeways and even one of the flood control channels, before a final escape by going the wrong way on the freeway. The next day, the standard police briefing includes an FBI bulletin about their agent Ling, who was kidnapped, robbed and murdered while on a sting operation. There's no positive identification on the assailants, and moreover, Chance and Vukovich did not kill Ling. Vukovich is nonetheless consumed by guilt, while Chance is apathetic and focused solely on getting Masters. Unable to persuade Chance to come clean about their role in Ling's death, Vukovich meets with Grimes, who advises him to turn himself in and testify against Chance in exchange for a lighter sentence. Vukovich refuses to implicate his partner.
Chance and Vukovich meet with Masters to deliver the down payment. After inspecting the counterfeit million, the agents start to arrest Masters and Jack, but Jack pulls a shotgun. Jack and Chance fatally shoot each other, and Masters escapes. Vukovich gives chase, going to a warehouse a previous informant had told them about. By the time he arrives, Masters has set fire to everything inside, destroying all evidence. Vukovich confronts Masters and during a brief struggle, Masters asks Vukovich why he didn't take Grimes' advice to turn his partner in, revealing that Grimes was working on Masters' behalf all along. While Vukovich is stunned at the revelation, Masters grabs a board and knocks him unconscious. Masters then covers Vukovich with shredded paper and is about to set him on fire when Vukovich wakes up and shoots Masters. Masters drops his lighter and accidentally sets himself ablaze, while Vukovich empties his gun on the burning man.
After Masters' death, Grimes gives his estate to Masters' girlfriend Bianca. Showing little remorse, she rides away in Masters' black Ferrari with another woman. Vukovich visits Chance's informant Ruth as she's packing up to leave L.A. He mentions Chance's death, deducing she had known all along that Ling was FBI. He knows Chance had left her with the remaining cash that his agency now wants back, but Ruth said she needed it to pay debts she owed. Vukovich states that Ruth is working for him now, turning into the same "whatever it takes" agent that his partner was.
- William Petersen as Richard Chance
- Willem Dafoe as Eric "Rick" Masters
- John Pankow as John Vukovich
- Debra Feuer as Bianca Torres
- John Turturro as Carl Cody
- Darlanne Fluegel as Ruth Lanier
- Dean Stockwell as Bob Grimes
- Steve James as Jeff Rice
- Robert Downey, Sr. as Thomas Bateman
- Michael Greene as Jimmy Hart
- Christopher Allport as Max Waxman
- Jack Hoar as Jack
- Valentin de Vargas as Judge Filo Cedillo
- Dwier Brown as Doctor
- Michael Chong as Thomas Lin
- Gerald Petievich as Special Agent
- Jane Leeves as Serena