Review: The Hateful Eight (+ video review)

The Hateful Eight (+ video review)
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PLOT: Post-Civil War Wyoming: A group of disparate travelers hole up in a remote cabin to wait out a blizzard, among them: two bounty hunters, a wanted felon, a couple of former confederate soldiers. Simmering prejudices and a general mistrust will be the undoing of this uncomfortable party; the only question is who will make it out alive?

REVIEW:THE HATEFUL EIGHT is Quentin Tarantino at his most comically dark and nasty. It offers us a true rogue’s gallery of characters, not one of them fully likable or sympathetic, and while he’s always been fond of making the audience question their allegiance to his violence-prone, morally gray protagonists, Quentin’s latest film never quite asks us to root for any of them, because they’re just too damn mean, creepy, psychotic. (Or all of the above.) Don’t get me wrong, this being QT, he makes most of these cretins highly enjoyable to behold, but after eight movies I can’t think of one slightly more in need of someone with at least a touch of kindness in their heart.

But that’s clearly not what Tarantino is going for here, THE HATEFUL EIGHT being his ode to the villains of western movies and TV shows of old. His idea here is to cram together a batch of sour-faced bastards in a secluded location, assemble some of his favorite character actors to play said bastards, and fluff the piece up with some old-school showmanship, such as shooting the film in 65mm (to be projected in 70mm), open the proceedings with an overture, and adding an intermission at a key point. Story-wise, it might actually be Tarantino’s least adventurous tale, but purely in terms of presentation, it could be his most film-geeky to date.

The film is set in Wyoming, some years after the civil war. A stage coach carrying a bounty hunter named John “the Hangman” Ruth - played by Kurt Russell - and a felon named Daisy - played by Jennifer Jason Leigh - stops to pick up a couple of stranded travelers - ex-Union soldier Marquis Warren and former confederate Chris Mannix, played by Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins, respectively. Considerable tension is already building among the quartet when they stop at a remote general store to avoid a blizzard.

Taking refuge within the store are a disparate group of shady-looking characters, including Tim Roth's over-the-top Englishman, a brooding cowboy played by Michael Madsen, a gruff Mexican played by Demian Bichir (who seems to be channeling Eli Wallach in The Good the Bad and the Ugly), and a former confederate General named Smithers, played by Bruce Dern. No doubt, none of these men are on the up and up, and the longer the group is holed up together, the more their prejudices and secrets get the best of them, leading to a series of stand-offs, confrontations, and, of course, bouts of violence. To borrow from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE’s ad campaign, the question quickly becomes: who will survive, and what will be left of them?

Though they’re all playing, to varying degrees, virtueless people, it’s initially not hard to distinguish “the bad” from “the ugly.” The Hangman treats his prisoner with stunningly violent contempt (we see Leigh punched in the face time and time again) but aside from that - and his apparent penchant for enjoying watching his prey hanged - Ruth’s offered up as the de facto best of the bad men. Meanwhile, though Warren’s part in helping the Union win the war is legendary, we come to learn things about him that establish him as far from saintly. We don’t know why Daisy is in such trouble, but her stubborn demeanor and foul mouth make it clear she’s no diamond in the rough.

From the offset, it’s Mannix who is the most colorful character; an unabashed racist and former confederate rebel, the character seems intent on both irritating his company and winning their favor. This does not endear him to Warren, naturally, but then again the presence of Smithers, who was famously unforgiving to the Union’s black soldiers on the battlefield, has the former Major even more livid. Roth’s cheery Englishman - Oswaldo - claims to be the hangman in waiting for Daisy, but his manner is rather suspicious. But you could say the same for the Mexican, the cowboy, everyone in the place.

The cast here is, as should be suspected, pretty much perfect. Tarantino knows most of the folks pretty well by now, and his stock players like Jackson, Roth and Madsen are all reliably engaging. Russell, in his second go-round with QT, is the Kurt we all know and love: a badass with a (minor) heart of gold. But it’s Goggins (also making his second Tarantino appearance, after DJANGO UNCHAINED) and Leigh who really steal the show.  Both give flamboyant, scenery-chewing performances that you won't be able to take your eyes off of. Goggins really proves he's one of the better character actors around today, and Leigh should easily nab a Supporting Actress nomination for playing a character both devious and sympathetic.

The film looks great; Robert Richardson's meticulous cinematography is beautifully realized on the big screen - especially if you can see it in 70mm. Ennio Morricone's score (some of it new, some of it old) perfectly compliments the morbid picture that unfolds in front of us, and every other aspect of the film on the technical side is superb. Special shout out to Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger's splatterific make-up effects; the guys make blood fly as outrageously here as they did in DJANGO UNCHAINED.

Tarantino has never been one for sentimentalizing things, but HATEFUL has a particularly blunt mean streak. Many of the film's death scenes are accentuated by cartoonish blood just as it was in DJANGO, but there's a coldness to this film where that one was buoyed by an undeniably romantic heart at its center. One massacre sequence is particularly harsh, while the non-stop punishment Leigh takes at the hands of Russell - whether the character deserves it or not - isn't easy to laugh off. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is as far from “warm” as Tarantino has ever strayed; it’s a pretty grotesque piece of work. That stated, its demented attitude is infectious if you’re in a similar frame of mind, and because its characters are so unapologetic, you can’t feel too bad when they start hitting the deck. Truth be told I was smiling quite a bit with every gory death.

It’s a long film, but the length isn't a problem because Tarantino knows how to keep us fixated on his play, but it does take a long time before he builds any genuine tension. (In fact, it happens right before the intermission.) As has become habit with him, he's so head over heels with his own words that he doesn't know when to end a speech; the dialogue is amusing and elaborate, but too much of a good thing tends to halt the pace of a sequence. Not unlike scenes in his last few films, Tarantino has an inability to censor himself - even if he still is just about the best dialogue-writer in town. You think a character has wrapped up an entertaining monologue, but no, he has to keep going for a few more beats, lessening the impact of the overall moment.

It's also frankly impossible at this point to defend Tarantino's incessant use of the N Word, although just typing that makes it sound as if I've defended it before, which I haven't. I've accepted it as a button-pushing motif of the director's, as I've always felt it was mostly utilized in the name of shock value, but HATEFUL EIGHT’s rampant use of the word is ugly and unappealing, to say the least. You want to tell me the people of this time period would actually use it with such aplomb, fine, but Tarantino doesn't need to employ it so much, he really does like using that word. Have I turned overly PC? No, Tarantino is daring us to be upset with him. (The film is not without some political undercurrents; some bits of dialogue are clearly vibrating with anger over current race relations in the U.S. which is why I don't think Tarantino is a racist; I think he's finally gone overboard with a shtick I find offensive.)

Still, there’s just so much fun to be found here, especially in the performances. I’m not sure if HATEFUL EIGHT would be quite as amusing if it weren’t filled top to bottom with such a grand ensemble, but casting has never been a problem for Quentin, and this gang - while certainly inhabiting some bad individuals - is worth the price of admission alone. Add to that watching Tarantino in a particularly naughty, ghoulish mood and there’s little doubt his fans will be tickled pink over this caustic jamboree. 

Source: JoBlo.com



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