HAL ASHBY’S 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

8 mill

It took me a few viewings to totally appreciate Hal Ashby’s barely released 1986 film 8 Million Ways To Die, which was the eclectic helmer’s unique spin on the crime film, and would serve as his final major motion picture. This was the first attempt to cinematically adapt the Matt Scudder detective story series from author Lawrence Block, with a gritty screenplay coming from future auteur Oliver Stone, and uncredited rewrites taking place by Robert Towne and R. Lance Hill (who ended up using the pseudonym David Lee Henry). Starring Jeff Bridges, Rosanna Arquette in one of her best and sexiest performances, and an extra-volatile Andy Garcia in one of his first leading roles and in total scene stealing mode, the movie died a very fast box office death, and was met with savage reviews from critics. It’s still not even available on American DVD or Blu-ray, with only a Region B DVD currently available. The film has a scattershot narrative that’s both pulpy and energetic, and yet still feels compromised in some instances. But there’s still something fascinating going on within the narrative and with certain aesthetic choices made by Ashby. Stephen H. Burum’s sinewy and seedy cinematography stressed an alternatively shadowy and sometimes neon-inflected color palette, while the excellent music from James Newton Howard kept an appropriately shifty and dangerous sonic ambiance. The filmmaker was reportedly fired from the movie before it was finished, which might explain why the film feels so choppy in spots, as he wasn’t allowed to collaborate on the final editorial process. It’s an odd yet entertaining film, with some cool moments, but exists as a curious “What if?” on Ashby’s legendary filmography.

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