To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
This brutal film about a dirty cop's personal vendetta in the Los Angeles underworld of counterfeiting, snitching and ruthless executions was both hailed and criticised at the time it came out – for being unforgivingly realistic and unforgivingly vile, respectively. And they were all right; the film paints a harrowing picture of a cold, cynical macho culture in Reagan era L.A. in which everything and nothing was justifiable and where the distinction between the good guys and bad guys had been almost completely obliterated.
William Friedkin (The Exorcist) adapted and directed the film seemingly with an intention of not making any compromises. The film is as violent as anything you'll see from this period, like a cross between Dirty Harry and Cobra, completely free of moral justification, heck even moral discussion. It's not immoral, it's completely amoral. And Friedkin's use of violence is not a tad poetic or beautiful (like Tarantino's for example), but not fun and simple either (like the violence in many other films from this period). Friedkin's violence is dejected, serving only to suck the joy out of us and the characters in the film. But still we want to keep watching, because the film has an exhilarating quality to it, created in large by its amoral stance: You're free to root for whomever you want; or better still - not root for anyone.
To Live and Die in L.A. doesn't speak to your empathy or sense of right and wrong; it speaks to your gut. It's thrilling in much the same way as a roller-coaster. The film is marred by some of the typical mid-80s weaknesses, like a masturbation of its own action set-pieces and simplified supporting characters, but on the other hand, it has a rawness to it which is missing from many of today's action films. And the fine performances by the two leads does a lot to enhance this effect, particularly a young Willem Dafoe who personifies this said rawness. Look also for Dean Stockwell as a delightfully slimy lawyer.