Monday, January 4, 2016


Writer and director Quentin Tarantino loves the movies to a fault. He adores classic cinema so much that he packs his own work with may winks and nods and references to the films which inspired him to become the filmmaker he is today. He doesn’t quite have his own cinematic voice, but instead allows the history of cinema, which he recycles, to do the talking for him. His latest, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, is much of the same…only this time, the method is used effectively and masterfully.

Set a few years after the end of the Civil War, bounty hunter John “the Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) encounter a fellow bounty hunter and former Union solider (Samuel L. Jackson) and a man who claims to be sheriff (Walton Goggins). The four take shelter from a blizzard at a stagecoach stopover, where they are greeted by four strangers; a hangman (Tim Roth), a former confederate general (Bruce Dern), a Mexican (Demian Bichier), and a cowboy (Michael Madsen).

Tarantino is a big film nerd, and he tends to draw other film nerds to the theatre to see what he’s milkshaked up lately. The first thing that today’s crop of film-geeks will notice is that THE HATEFUL EIGHT draws a lot from John Carpenter’s 1982 thriller THE THING; another closed-room guessing game (wink) which also starred Kurt Russell (nod)…and Tarantino even goes as far as re-using a portion of the original soundtrack (wink again). It’s an old story in a new setting and certainly not a deal-breaker, but worth mentioning because those who know their cinema would likely see right through it.

But once the characters get into place and the suspicion of at least one person not being who he says he his takes root, THE HATEFUL EIGHT takes what has been done before it and compounds it. Just like any good horror movie should have the hanging feeling of dread, Tarantino brings in a constant feeling of uneasiness in THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Audiences may certainly be looking over their shoulders just like the characters are, wondering who is behind them and what they are really up to. Paranoia is the name of the game and Tarantino plays it like a banjo from hell.

Not content to just have the film turn into an Old West version of CLUE, Tarantino does excellent work with his characters. None of these rogues and hooligans are the type of people you’d want to hang out with, but they are developed well enough that putting them all in a confined space and letting them be themselves works brilliantly. Ex-soldiers from the war have axes to grind, bounty hunters have cargo to protect, and secrets have to be kept in what winds up as a very intricate web of storytelling.

Tarantino has long had a reputation as a great writer of dialogue, and THE HATEFUL EIGHT strengthens that thought. Dialogue is perfect for every character, keeps a long movie feeling like it is moving by quickly, and makes for some thrilling white-knuckle showdowns. The N-word is used a lot, but considering the time-frame feels right-at-home. The bursts of violence come out of nowhere and are sure to send popcorn flying.

Shooting in the seldom used format of 70mm, Tarantino does remarkable work in filling his frame when the camera is inside and outside. The outdoor footage is stunning, and the detail and lush colors inside the cabin (also called a haberdashery) pop off the screen. By far it is the most technically superior film Tarantino has ever put together. The “Roadshow Presentation” is complete with a magnificent overture, and the intermission is perfectly timed after one of the biggest and best showdowns of the movie. The intermission is followed some jarringly unnecessary narration from Tarantino himself; an odd choice as the film was surviving just fine on its own without any outside help. The score by legendary composer Ennio Morricone, his first Western in several decades, is powerful and perfectly appropriate for the time-period, although the film does have a few silly choices in using pop-music here and there.

Acting borders on over-the-top in some places and magnificent in others. Kurt Russell, in his first real starring role in a long while, seems very inspired by his gruff character and makes it work. Jennifer Jason Leigh is excellent as the fugitive who is a little un-hinged, and Samuel L. Jackson turns in one of his best performances in a long time. The show is nearly stolen by Walton Goggins and his excellent comedic timing, although it seems hammy at times…and Bruce Dern can still bring the goods. A surprise cameo late in the film is a blast, and Tim Roth is still the most annoying twit in the business. Michael Madsen is fine for the most part but for some reason goes into a Cookie Monster voice for no reason.

After a few twists and turns, THE HATEFUL EIGHT wraps up as one hell of a bloody affair, and after three-plus hours (including overture and intermission) it very much feels earned. There are a lot of familiar pieces and parts in the 8th film by Quentin Tarantino, but this time out he makes them feel new and doesn’t rely on them alone to carry his story. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is very much an authentic Western of old, and a true treat for cinema lovers.


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