A film review by Craig J. Koban January 8, 2016

RANK: 4

THE HATEFUL EIGHT jjjj
 

2015, R, 168 mins.

 

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue  /  Channing Tatum as Jody  /  Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren  /  Kurt Russell as John 'The Hangman' Ruth  /  Walton Goggins as Sheriff Chris Mannix  /  Tim Roth as Oswaldo Mobray  /  ZoŽ Bell as Six-Horse Judy  /  Michael Madsen as Joe Gage  /  Bruce Dern as General Sandy Smithers  /  DemiŠn Bichir as Bob  /  Dana Gourrier as Minnie  /  James Parks as O.B Jackson  /  Craig Stark as Chester Charles Smithers  /  Belinda Owino as Gemma  /  Bruce Del Castillo as Homer Van Hootin  /  Keith Jefferson as Charly

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino

Ever since writer/director Quentin Tarantino made an explosive debut 23 years ago with RESERVOIR DOGS he has populated all of his films with a rich and colorful menagerie of degenerate lowlifes that were all somehow paradoxically endearing.  

I donít think that any previous entry on his resume will prepare viewers for the sadistically duplicitous vermin that appear in THE HATEFUL EIGHT, his second western (following 2012ís good, but problematic DJANGO UNCHAINED) that shows his loving fondness for the Spaghetti westerns of the 1960ís.  Shot with crisp and powerfully rendered 70mm film (the first studio feature in nearly 25 years to do so) and featuring a remarkable ensemble group of actors bringing the writerís eloquently rough and rugged dialogue to life, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a masterful return to form for Tarantino and is arguably his best film since INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

Even though THE HATEFUL EIGHT superficially looks like a sprawling and epically realized western film of old that makes startling usage of long panoramic vistas and camera lenses, the film is surprisingly and refreshingly insular in approach.  Itís more or less a spiritual sequel to RESERVOIR DOGS in the sense that a majority of the film takes place indoors, is built up primarily of monologues and character interactions and dynamics, and ultimately is grounded in the nail biting tension in waiting to see which of its battle hardened and paranoid men (or one woman) will break and go for the kill first.  This bait and switch approach to a western may turn many lay viewers off, but itís quintessential Tarantino through and through.  Heís built a career on subverting audience expectations, and THE HATEFUL EIGHT is certainly no exception.  It deceptively sets itself up as one type of frontier western, only then Ė about half way through Ė performing a quick about-face and becomes more of a tight and suspenseful character drama worthy of a stage play.  Nothing ever happens as expected in this film, which is what gives it such a strong sense of forward momentum and keeps us engaged. 

 

 

The film opens with a meticulous slow, but bravura tracking shot that splendidly incorporates the wider-than-normal frame that Tarantino has never utilized before.  Set during an unspecified time post-Civil War and divided into six chapters (a classic Tarantino-esque storytelling trait), THE HATEFUL EIGHT introduces us to a pair of bounty hunters on a lonely and desolately snow covered Wyoming road.  Thereís Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), who's looking for some transportation assistance with getting him and his dead prey back into town to collect his sought after reward.  He meets John ďHangmanĒ Ruth (the hairier than ever Kurt Russell) thatís passing by in a carriage that has his own prisoner with him, Daisy (a perpetually dour and steely eyed Jennifer Jason Leigh), and wishes to collect the $10,000 reward on her.  Unlike Warren (who doesnít care if his targets are brought in dead or alive), Ruth always prefers to bring his bounties in alive so they can hang for their crimes.  From the get-go, Ruth and Warren have clear-cut ideological differences about their profession, but after some finagling Warren is granted access to Ruthís coach and they depart. 

Along the way they manage to pick up yet another straggler in Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a former Confederate soldier turned frontier lawman.  Obviously, he doesnít take kindly to sharing a ride with a black man, which adds another unwanted layer of tension and suspicion on the coach.  They all eventually arrive at Minnieís Haberdashery to escape an incoming blizzard, during which time they meet another quartet of potentially nefarious souls: Bob the Mexican (Demian Bichir), a UK hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and an elderly Confederate war hero, General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern).  The more time the film spends with all of these souls trapped within the ever-increasingly claustrophobic conditions the more everyone begins to distrust each otherís true motives, which eventually explodes in truly unnerving and surprising ways.  

On purely visual levels, THE HATEFUL EIGHT just might be Tarantinoís most technically assured production ever.  The film's 70mm presentation makes a rather assured and provocative statement for the inherent necessity of employing old school formats for modern consumption, and Tarantino really seems to understand how to use the expansiveness of the frame to make the frontier look forebodingly beautiful.  Rather compellingly, he also uses 70mm impeccably well in the character driven moments inside the Haberdashery, during which time he creates a sense of distance between characters on screen that reinforces their sense of undulating distrust in each other.  Even though the outdoor terrain is passionately rendered on screen, THE HATEFUL EIGHT gets the most production mileage out of the Haberdashery interiors, which becomes a secondary character in its own right throughout the film that evokes the filmís primary theme of hopelessly lost men that seem lost in terms of playing nice with each other.  Complimenting everything is the hauntingly lyrical music score by the legendary Ennio Morricone, his first western score in four decades.  Heís clearly still got it. 

For a film thatís nearly three hours long and is essentially built on dialogue and very little action (granted, when the latter comes it arrives with a gut wrenching and blood splattered wallop), THE HATEFUL EIGHT never feels its length, mostly because of how well Tarantino knows his way around the psychological headspaces of his characters.  Some critics have bemoaned the film for being ďtoo talkyĒ for its own good, but they are missing the point altogether.  Tarantino never lets his characters engage in insipidly contrived dialogue that simply serves the purpose of giving us expository particulars.  The men and women that occupy his story here speak with a colorfully profane elegance thatís so decidedly rare these days, and it's ostensibly what makes THE HATEFUL EIGHT Ė like all of the directorís past works Ė such an intense bit of dialogue driven theater.  When the film then morphs in its second half into a disturbingly grotesque Agatha Christie whodunit from hell itís pretty clear that Tarantino has more on his mind than just lazily recycling western genre troupes.  Even though the film builds slowly, the pacing of the story becomes unrelenting as it culminates towards its shocking conclusion. 

All of the performers here are at the top of their respective games.  Kurt Russell (returning to work with Tarantino again after DEATH PROOF) is sensational as a man with both a moral job code that he steadfastly stands behind while showing a brutally violent temperament that can burst at any moment.  Tim Roth (a Tarantino alumni) is reliably solid as his slippery-tongued devil that masks his deep and dark ulterior motives with the faÁade of an English gentleman.  Bruce Dern grounds the film dramatically with his old school screen presence in a tricky role as the despicable Confederate general with an axe to grind with Warren that pays off in scandalous ways.  Samuel L. Jackson Ė in his sixth film with Tarantino - gives THE HATEFUL EIGHTís most intriguing performance considering his overall character arc; he hasnít been this robustly assured in a Tarantino film since JACKIE BROWN.  Jennifer Jason Leigh has the most thankless role here as Daisy, especially considering that she could have been a one-note victim being used for cheaply sensationalistic effect.  No dice, seeing as Daisy might be the most vengefully hostile character in the whole film with a complicated agenda all her own. 

Tarantino edited two separate versions of this film, one being a roadshow print for 70mm presentations (itís a bit longer and contains an intermission) and the other being a slightly truncated non-70mm theatrical version minus intermission.  Regardless of version screened, THE HATEFUL EIGHT fully retains Tarantinoís perversely entertaining cocktail of dark gallows humor, over-the-top violence, intoxicating dialogue, and unbelievably well rendered characters that makes the 168 minutes seemingly fly by in an instant.  That, and the fact that this western begins with classical iconography in terms of look and mood and then segues into a brilliantly conceived and staged psychological mystery thriller is to its ultimate credit.  The manner with which Tarantino can so effortlessly juggle multiple genre disciplines has made him the envy of the industry for twenty years, and THE HATEFUL EIGHT once again shows his complete command over his filmmaking craft.  Itís kind of amazing, in pure hindsight, how captivated I was by such a long film filled withÖhateful characters without any redeeming qualities whatsoever.  

Only bad films with flatly written and dull characters feel long.  This ainít one of them. 

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