Thursday 5 January 2012

The Hard Way (2005)

Director: Paul DeNigris
Stars: Steve Cooper and Steve Briscoe

In 2009, Steve Briscoe wrote and Paul DeNigris directed the sublime short film Cowboy Dreams, with a cast to die for, including Bill Engvall and Danny Trejo. It was a leisurely piece, establishing a setting that we've seen many times before but then leading us slowly but surely into surreality and a gloriously unexpected set of lines from Trejo. This film, shot in 1999 for a Briscoe comedy special but turned into a standalone short in 2005, feels like an early draft version, with a similar concept but without the budget, the stars or the dialogue to bring it to life, let alone the level of technical skill involved. The lighting, sound and camerawork are notably weaker and the opening credits are terrible. Had the later film never been made this would have been an OK amateur short, but it pales in comparison in every way. Worthy only as an extra feature on the Cowboy Dreams DVD to see how the concept evolved over time, fortunately that's where I got to see it.

I have no idea how easy it is to get hold of this DVD but it's a great little disc, worth it for Cowboy Dreams alone, of course, but with a revealing documentary about the making of that film and no less than five earlier shorts to boot. DeNigris is a professor of film at the University of Advancing Technology in Glendale, AZ, and most of the cast and crew of his films have graduated from his classes. Watching a number of their shorts back to back is enough to see how they and he have progressed over the years. This is the earliest and the weakest of perhaps eight DeNigris films I've seen but it and Cowboy Dreams are the most easily compared. It's obvious that the pair of characters here were split up into many for the later film, adding depth all around. Expertise of cast and crew does the rest. I think that if Briscoe and DeNigris could travel back in time with the knowledge they have now, they wouldn't make this better, they'd make Cowboy Dreams instead.

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