About halfway through 8 Million Ways to Die, I realized–thanks to a boom mike–my twenty year-old laserdisc was open matte, not pan and scan. The widescreen zoomed suddenly made the shots tighter and crisper, regaining Ashby’s usually calmness. I suppose I should have stopped and went back to the beginning to see if it made any difference, but I doubt it. The first forty minutes of 8 Million Ways to Die suffer multiple plagues–summary storytelling, sometimes good but Jeff Bridges’s wife in the movie doesn’t even have a line when she’s on screen it’s all so fast; Alexandra Paul, who’s supposed to be playing a “wuss,” so maybe her crappy performance is intentional; and Rosanna Arquette. At the halfway point, moments after I saw that boom mike (it actually was a mike for Arquette), she changes. Goes from being bad to being good (sometimes great) in the rest of the film.
8 Million Ways to Die is a Chandler-esq “mystery” where the detective forces his way through the case instead of actually detecting anything. It’s solved because the bad guy comes shooting for the detective. But once the film gets going, the problems with the story fall away. Throughout, Jeff Bridges is absolutely amazing. It’s probably his best performance. Watching it, I wanted to rewind and watch him think about what to say next again. Amazing performance. And once Arquette takes off, Bridges is in good company. Supporting suspect slash good guy Randy Brooks is good and has some nice moments, but Andy Garcia’s great as the bad guy. It’s a wild, eccentric performance and Garcia doesn’t do these things anymore. He’s crazy; he’s great.
So Bridges and some Ashby’s real nice stuff in here–the studio the movie away from him but whoever cut it did a nice job fitting the music and sound (some shoddy cuts here and there though, lack of coverage and such)–but the really amazing thing about 8 Million Ways to Die is this five minute scene between Arquette and Bridges when they talk. They have coffee and wash dishes but they mostly talk and very naturalistic and it’s unlike most scenes in every other movie ever made. To say there aren’t scenes like it enough doesn’t go far enough, because seeing it suggests maybe all scenes should be like it. It’s beautiful.
I actually found 8 Million Ways to Die in a box of other unreleased-on-DVD laserdiscs I didn’t know I still had. It’s a shame it’s not out, but I can’t control Lionsgate or whatever likely lousy company owns the rights. But I did lose track of this film somewhere in the last eight or nine years and I really shouldn’t have.
Directed by Hal Ashby; screenplay by Oliver Stone and David Lee Henry, from a novel by Lawrence Block; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Robert Lawrence and Stuart H. Pappé; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Michael D. Haller; produced by Stephen J. Roth; released by Tri-Star Pictures.
Starring Jeff Bridges (Matthew Scudder), Rosanna Arquette (Sarah), Alexandra Paul (Sunny), Randy Brooks (Chance), Andy Garcia (Angel Maldonado), Lisa Sloan (Linda Scudder), Christa Denton (Laurie Scudder), Vance Valencia (Quintero), Vyto Ruginis (Joe Durkin) and Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister (Nose Guard).