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Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Hateful Eight (2015) review


Samuel L. Jackson (Major Marquis Warren), Kurt Russell (John Ruth), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Daisy Domergue), Walton Goggins (Sheriff Chris Mannix), Demian Bechir (Bob), Tim Roth (Oswaldo Mobray), Michael Madsen (Joe Gage), Bruce Dern (General Sandy Smithers), James Parks (O.B. Jackson), Dana Gourrier (Minnie Mink), Zoe Bell (Six-Horse Judy), Lee Horsley (Ed), Gene Jones (Sweet Dave), Keith Jefferson (Charly), Craig Stark (Chester Charles Smithers), Belinda Owina (Gemma), Channing Tatum (Jody)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

The Short Version: Another three hour (187 in its roadshow version) QT snooze-fest is the ultimate in pretentiousness on the part of America's most self-congratulatory director. Tarantino delivers his most long-winded work yet, moving along, as Kurt Russell says in the film, "molasses like". Fans of the director will find all his signature staples--a dearth of extraneous, unnecessary dialog; ego-stroking scenes that go on forever; mismatched music cues; flashbacks that bridge interminable yapping with bloody violence; nods to this or that film; and frequent use of the word 'nigger'. Tarantino is nothing else if not consistent. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is more like THE WASTEFUL THREE.

While transporting a criminal to Red Rock for hanging, John Ruth picks up a few more passengers aboard his stagecoach before a massive blizzard forces them to seek refuge at a waystation for the night. Four men wait inside, all of which have some story to tell and a bloody secret that unfolds over the course of a single night.

As an opening title card informs us, this is Quentin Tarantino's 8th (Boring) Movie... another movie where people talk about nothing for extended periods of time till jarring scenes of brutality upset the tedium. His 6th Boring Movie, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, the war picture that never depicts an actual war, was touted as the first of one big, boring trilogy--continuing with DJANGO UNCHAINED and wrapping up with THE HATEFUL EIGHT; which apparently has connections to characters in the aforementioned and awkwardly spelled INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. 

THE HATEFUL EIGHT is sort of a western version of Carpenter's THE THING (even implementing some of that film's unused music)--a film Tarantino already reworked to a degree for his RESERVOIR DOGS (1992). You'll also find elements that may remind you of snow-caked westerns like DAY OF THE OUTLAW (1959), the Spanish gore western CUT-THROATS NINE (1972) and Corbucci's THE GREAT SILENCE (1968). Another Italian western that seems very familiar is Giuseppe Vari's SHOOT THE LIVING AND PRAY FOR THE DEAD (1971)--a talky suspense western starring Klaus Kinski in one of his prime bad guy roles; but unlike Tarantino's movie it's only 90 minutes in length.....

Most movies, by the 70 minute mark, are building to a climax.... 70 minutes into THE HATEFUL EIGHT things are barely getting started (and there's 100 more to go!). Virtually every scene goes on ad infinitum. We're nearly 40 minutes in before the setting finally changes from a stagecoach to the "Minnie's Haberdashery"--owned and operated by Minnie, a character who is conspicuous in her absence, and one whom we meet in a flashback around the two hour mark. At that point, we're introduced (and, in some cases, re-introduced) to characters already at the cabin; and what happened to them prior to the arrival of the stagecoach.

From that point to the end, the oral onslaught continues but with the addition of extreme violence and bloodshed. It gets so ridiculous, it borders on parody. So much blood is splattered on, or seeping from, Jennifer Jason Leigh, you get the impression the director was trying to outdo the amount of red stuff Bruce Campbell wears in THE EVIL DEAD (1981). One of a few running gags, Daisy Domergue is not only drenched in bits of brains and gallons of blood, but gets punched in the face at regular intervals throughout the movie.

An epic in self-indulgence is what's really up on screen in 70mm. It's the director's ultimate gab-fest, trapping a group of people in a single locale where they talk... and talk.... and talk..... often repeating the same things over and over again. Imagine a record player skipping for 170 minutes. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a near 3 hour bomb of intentionally repetitive ego-stroking.

One example of this film's monotonousness is witnessing people entering the establishment having to hammer nails into the door over and over again to keep the biting freeze of winter's breath from getting inside. Some half a dozen times we watch as various cast members nail flimsy boards into a door without a latch. Some would call this a running gag; I call it an editing problem. 

Mercifully, Tarantino doesn't give himself an onscreen part in his Wild West version of GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER (1967), but he does narrate a few scenes; and not in a Morgan Freeman sort of way... no, it's like he's reading a book while sipping on a cup of hot chocolate by a warm fire. Merely telling us what we can clearly see transpiring onscreen, this does nothing to progress the story in any way.

There are some nice things on display, though. The director captures some awe-inspiring shots that serve the gloomy atmosphere very well. Sadly, these are few and far between; this is even more unfortunate since the director shot his picture in 70mm--a novel choice if only Tarantino had opted to take advantage of the process. Take THE ALAMO (1960), for instance. John Wayne's sprawling epic was that and more with the wider angle lens fitting the action like a glove. Tarantino, on the other hand, wants to give his audience an epic but settles for a stage play/sitcom style scenario where the setting is a single location. Why even bother? What's the point of having more room to play with if you're confining yourself to one room--two if you count the 40 minute slog inside a stagecoach.

The acting is mostly top-notch, which, considering the cast, is to be expected. Unfortunately, the director's penchant for doing everything over the top ruins any serious attempt at the material. For example, there's another tiresome running gag, this one about Samuel L. Jackson having a letter from Abraham Lincoln that opens the door for Tarantino to utilize his favorite epithet for comedy relief as opposed to further defining the villains--as there's no hero(es) here at all. Two times back to back we hear this line from a shocked Tim Roth and Walter Goggins, "The nigger in the stable... has a letter from Abraham Lincoln?!" Later as they sit at a table eating hot stew, the Lincoln letter comes up for the third time; and again, Tarantino indulges his repetitive nature.

In interviews the director said he infused his film with social relevance; yet there is little of it. Tarantino turns post-Civil War racial tension into a blood-drenched comedy routine. The two most unlikely of friends end up joining forces not because they've set aside, or even solved their differences, but out of a need for survival. The film wastes three hours exploring nothing of substance.

In all fairness there are a few strong moments that punctuate a scene or two, but the effect is mostly obliterated by a reliance on camp. The best of these suspense moments is the exchange between Samuel L. and Bruce Dern--two former enemies on the battlefield who still harbor a great deal of hatred between them. The scene in question has Major Warren (Jackson) feigning a desire to, metaphorically speaking, lay down arms a second time. It's a very well done sequence in terms of the editing; although Tarantino messes up the flow with a flashback--which is odd considering the sheer number of bland convos he gives the audience without any visualization at all. Unfortunately he mucks up the sequence with an awkward fellatio infused climax (haha).

Elsewhere, the KNB FX are as splattery as ever; even if they feel out of place in a movie that has people talking for hours uttering worthless dialog. There's no denying the director is a good writer, but narcissism has been the man's guiding force for at least seven years now; since as far back as his exploitation movie without any exploitation, the car wreck that was DEATH PROOF--one half of the failed 70s throwback, GRINDHOUSE (2009).

Most movies just get on with it. This one wants to take its shoes off and sit a spell. Tarantino continues to outdo himself; whether that's a good or bad thing depends on your opinion of the director's works. Fans of QT will lap it up while others will enjoy a three hour nap. It's a shame THE HATEFUL EIGHT is such a turgid experience; there's a fine story buried beneath three hours of pompous pandering by a director writing the longest love letter ever... to himself.


neither-neither said...

Wow, thank you! I have been a fan of your site for years, as we love many of the same films. I was somewhat into Tarantino in my teens (up through Kill Bill) but some point around Death Proof it all started to annoy me (even the stuff people adamantly defend, like his first two). These days, I consider myself a hater, though I feel my opinion isn't really valid as I don't care for many modern movies very much at all. Over christmas, a friend gave me a movie ticket and I decided this might be interesting, given that I'd avoided his prior two films. At least it had Kurt, 70mm, and Ennio, and if nothing else people were probably going to be talking about it, right? God, it was terrible. I didn't expect your review to be as negative as my impressions, but it was a pleasure to see. It also takes some guts, as his "irony-homage defense" is quite strong among his fans. Anyway, thanks, as always, for the content!

venoms5 said...

Hi, neither-neither. You're very welcome, and thanks for the kind response. My QT affair mirrors yours, actually. My aversion began with KILL BILL. I do try to point out what I think is good in his works, though. For me JACKIE BROWN is his best. In a weird twist, I had gotten into a writing rut and lost interest and it was THE HATEFUL EIGHT that got me going again.

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