In the mid-80s, Hal Ashby paid for his dissent and having avoided submitting to the industry chaining failure after failure. The filmmaker brimming with the vitality of classics like ‘Harold y Maude‘ O ‘Welcome Mr. Chance‘tried to come back in a big way with a desperate attempt to get back into the great Hollywood game. But ‘Eight million ways to die‘became almost his grave. A failure that cost 18 million dollars and failed to raise one and a half in his entire commercial career.
Live and Die in LA
(The trailer is in German because those available in the original version have a quality close to that of the movies when they are going to die)
The ’70s were a creative feast for Hal Ashby. ‘The last duty‘, ‘Harold y Maude’, ‘Shampoo‘and’ Welcome Mr. Chance ‘put the filmmaker at the top. In addition, Ashby already had the prestige of having won an Oscar: he won it by editing the classic ‘In the heat of the night‘, Norman Jewison’s masterpiece. Unfortunately, the later decade would not be so kind to the filmmaker.
‘Eight million ways to die’ was, in 1986, Ashby’s last attempt to return to playing among the greatest. The script, written by Oliver Stone and David Lee Henry on the Lawrence Block novels, and a high-profile cast commanded by a Jeff Bridges that was beginning to be the great star of the moment, pointed to a sure hit. Nothing could be further from the truth. The project had already suffered A lot of problems from the same day that Walter Hill Y Nick Nolte they were about to do it.
To be honest, the movie may be one of Ashby’s less fortunate jobs, but not only because of the quality of the end result. Legal matters, an annoying director during production and finally withdrawn from the project entirely after several disputes and away from final assembly are too many obstacles for a production that reflects this chaotic process at all times.
It is impossible to know what they intended to do with the film Ashby and co-writer Oliver Stone, but it is easy to understand that that idea was not transferred to the screen at any time. The montage is confusing, the characters never go anywhere, they appear in the location that the scene requires as if by magic. What’s more, dialogue could have been replaced by improvisation, detail highly rumored since always, never confirmed nor denied. It does not take much to convince yourself that this was how it was watching the sequences between Arquette and Bridges or the relationship between the hero and the victim.
One of the key elements of this type of story is the pieces of the puzzle. Details that we know will be vital to the resolution of the main issue, but in ‘Eight million ways to die’ the most difficult thing to locate is the puzzle itself. The mission of the hero is unclear, as is the role of the hero himself. His presentation, concise and somewhat clumsy, will be finished off with a succession of lights and voice-overs. We never know how much time passes, or what happens to his relationships with those around him.
Rosanna Arquette and Andy Garcia they do what they can with their two human clichés. Garcia, as a ponytail villain, is more laughter than scary, and Arquette never seems to be enjoying her succession of appearances: there is no tone, no intention. The abrupt mood swings of her character are not the fault of the actress. But of all the interpretations, the one that attracts the most attention is that of Bridges, especially when use your character to start outlining the iconic Note of ‘The big lebowski.
‘Eight million ways to die’ is a really difficult movie. By his side, ‘Pure vice‘is an episode of’Corruption in Miami‘. Precisely the series created by Michael Mann it seems the mirror in which the producers asked to reflect the film of an Ashby that never seems to have connected with what we are seeing.
Daughter of her time and closer to what Quentin Tarantino would then be moving (‘Love at point blank range’) than to what William Friedkin had embroidered on more than one occasion, ‘Eight million ways to die’ is a green dog. A deranged product that perhaps should not have seen the light, but that leaves isolated moments of great american cinema thanks to the level of staging and the charisma of a cast more lost than anyone.
Hal Ashby’s worst movie? Well, it could be, but only because of the size of such an ambitious film noir odyssey. Nor will it be remembered as a key title within its time as they were. ‘Live and Die in LA‘or the very vindicable’ Breathless’ or ‘There is no way out’. In fact, the film is one more example of the pompous thriller that Hollywood was determined to do then. ‘Deadly shot’, from the great John Frankenheimer, or ‘With his own law’, by John Irvin, are two works that have a lot in common with Ashby’s film. The difference is that the one that concerns us here was product of insurmountable chaos and the other two maybe not so much.
No, ‘Eight million ways to die’ is neither the best film by its director nor is it a sample of the best US noir of the 80s, but it is certainly not the worst film in the history of cinema, something that anyone could deduce if you look for the title on the famous tomatitos page. In the end, the stockings are carried by the devil and do not help anyone. If you want to see how was the last attempt of a filmmaker who had made history to go back to being who he was while an industry that had changed forever devoured it, this is your movie. Hal Ashby would die two years later without turning 60. Come on, you almost have eight million reasons to see the movie.