At the risk of sounding like the little boy in “The
Emperor’s New Clothes,” I feel I must blurt out a few truths about Quentin
Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight:
it’s ridiculously overlong, needlessly
shot in Ultra Panavision 70, and (dare I say it?) downright boring at times.
But as Tarantino has an accommodating patron in Harvey
Weinstein and no one looking over his shoulder, if he chooses to stretch out a
talky mostly sedentary story past the three-hour mark, and shoot it in a 70mm
widescreen format better suited to outdoor epics, so be it. And if he wants the
great Ennio Morricone to compose a score (including an overture), that also
comes to pass. The fact that it’s one of the maestro’s least memorable or compelling
compositions is just a quibble.
I admire Quentin Tarantino for many reasons, not the least
being his devotion to the medium of motion-picture film, but self-indulgence
has always been his Achilles’ heel. This matters not to his blindly faithful
followers, but too often I find myself frustrated that he can’t, or won’t,
discipline himself. (This has nothing to do with arbitrary length: one of my
favorite of his films is Grindhouse,
which runs three hours long in its original form and hasn’t a dull moment.)
The Hateful Eight
is perversely reminiscent of John Ford’s landmark Western Stagecoach, in which a group of disparate individuals find
themselves spending time together at a way-station. But in Ford’s film the
segment is the centerpiece of the movie, surrounded by action, and here the
feeling is that of a one-set play that just goes on and on.
Not that there aren’t things to enjoy along the way. Samuel
L. Jackson fans will relish his robust performance as Major Marquis Warren, a
Union soldier-turned-bounty hunter who hitches a ride on a stagecoach
containing another man of his profession (Kurt Russell), who’s bringing in his
latest prey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and planning to collect $10,000 on delivery
at Red Rock. They’re joined by another stranded individual caught in the
blinding snowstorm: an ornery Southerner (Walton Goggins) who claims that he’s
the new sheriff in Red Rock. But their plans may be overturned by one or more
of the people they encounter at a cabin where they stop during the storm.
That’s where we meet the rest of the ensemble: British
hangman Tim Roth, laconic cowboy Michael Madsen, temporary caretaker of the
stagecoach stop Demian Bichir, and former Confederate officer Bruce Dern. Thus
begins a series of teasing encounters and power plays as the isolated
characters sniff each other out. What’s really going on, and which of these men
aren’t who they seem to be? Tarantino hoards the answers until after
intermission (which comes at the 101-minute mark, and not a moment too soon).
Part Two begins with an unexpected piece of narration summarizing what’s taken
place so far and revealing the backstories of several heretofore inscrutable
figures. There are even flashback scenes to fill in other gaps.
that we know who’s who, and what’s truly at stake, the story begins to
coalesce… and we finally get some action and the kind of violence we’ve come
to expect from Tarantino. It’s about time.
Cinematographer Robert Richardson takes advantage of the Ultra Panavision
lenses to frame the cabin-bound characters in interesting and dynamic ways.
Every detail of Yohei Taneda ‘s production design is shown off to advantage in
the super-sharp detail of the widescreen frame. But the question remains as to
how much this really adds to the effectiveness of a chamber piece such as this.
actors clearly relish their roles, with Russell in his element and Leigh a
standout as the comically manhandled prisoner (if you can get past the idea of
a woman being treated in such a cartoonishly violent manner), and Channing
Tatum quite effective in a revealing flashback. My main complaint is that Dern
has so little to do.
Tarantino followers will
certainly flock to see what he identifies onscreen as his eighth feature film;
I was as curious as anyone to see what he had in store, and how the movie would
look in 70mm. But I have to classify The
Hateful Eight as a disappointment on all counts. Any Quentin Tarantino film
is an Event, but this is one I’d just as soon forget