Monday, January 18, 2016

The Hateful Eight


3.5 Stars

Anyone familiar with my tenure on the Void Zone Podcast will know that I have soured on Quentin Tarantino since the 1990s. So imagine how surprised I was to find that I genuinely liked The Hateful Eight. I’m serious. I really liked it. I think it’s good.

The plot briefly. John “the Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter, is transporting his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to the town of Red Rock, Wyoming. With a terrible storm hot on their heels, they encounter another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and the new Sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). Unable to make Red Rock before the storm hits, they take shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a tavern and cabin along their journey. When they arrive, the proprietor Minnie is nowhere to be found, and in her place they find Senor Bob (Demian Bichir), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). Ruth and Warren are union veterans. Mannix and Smithers are confederates, and, in the close quarters of Minnie’s Haberdashery, the tensions of America in the Reconstruction Era nearly blind them all to the real threats they face inside the cabin. It’s one part Western, one part “Old Dark House” Whodunit, and thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end. Aided by a stellar cast, and a script that seems incredibly relevant to our modern times, The Hateful Eight is my favorite Tarantino film since Pulp Fiction.

Despite my occasional misgivings about Tarantino, one thing I always appreciate is his film literacy. His films are always referencing, quoting, or deconstructing earlier films, often obscure titles. He paints in bold strokes, but with great regard for the masters, and I like that in a filmmaker. Tarantino demonstrates his respect for the greats in The Hateful Eight by bringing the revered film composer Ennio Morricone (The Dollars Trilogy, Once Upon a Time in the West) to score The Hateful Eight, and it was the right decision. The Hateful Eight has the absolute finest score and soundtrack of 2015 (and that’s saying something in a year when a Cameron Crowe film was released too).

However, Tarantino’s obsession with the craft of film making also occasionally leads him astray. He occasionally crams something extraneous into an otherwise great film that takes me out of the dazzling, highly specific, and frequently self-referential film world he’s created. In The Hateful Eight, it was his decision to craft the movie as a “road show” film complete with overture and intermission. I didn’t see that version. I saw the ordinary standard cut where there was no actual intermission, just a sudden and jarring tonal shift where Tarantino’s voice comes on and begins reciting narration that would only be appropriate after an actual intermission. I think that the narration would have fit a little better if it had been done by Ms. Leigh.

Over the years, Tarantino has embraced his identity as a provocateur. He’s also reacted against any critical disdain by becoming more self-referential to the point of being nearly masturbatory in his film making. I have frequently suspected that his movies were made only for him, and meant to be reviewed only by him (Sample dialogue from Inglorious Basterds includes: “I think this may be my masterpiece”). However, in The Hateful Eight, Tarantino has crafted a film that tells a story, builds suspense, provides great moments for its characters, is beautifully photographed, and (thanks to Morricone) sings. I recommend it. See the road show version if you can.

From Out in the Void,

Steven

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