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Review & Roundup: Quentin Tarantino’s Dynamic Western ‘The Hateful Eight’

Review & Roundup: Quentin Tarantino's Dynamic Western 'The Hateful Eight'

Any Quentin Tarantino movie is an event. First, for better or worse, the man is pure. Since he started directing with “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992, Tarantino writes movies for himself and no one else. He pushes hard to achieve the best possible cinema, and most of the time, succeeds beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. (When “Death Proof” failed at the box office he was devastated.) His last two films, “Django Unchained” ($450 million worldwide) and “Inglourious Basterds” ($316 million worldwide) not only landed critical raves and global audiences but Oscar nominations. Out of five Oscar nods, Tarantino won twice for Original Screenplay (for “Pulp Fiction” and “Django”). He’d love to win Best Director.

Will this be the one? Well, in a competitive year, don’t count on it. But more than anyone except perhaps Martin Scorsese, the Academy reveres Tarantino. And I have often underestimated the auteur’s ability to deliver sheer entertainment value to a wide range of audiences. On that score “The Hateful Eight” more than delivers. 

The movie begins with strains of Ennio Morricone (during a six-minute overture, Tarantino’s first original score) and opens on a long shot of an ominous carved wooden cross in the foreground of a wintry Colorado mountain landscape as a far-off coach and six eventually fill the frame. The carriage contains bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth  (a bearded Kurt Russell) who is shackled to a tough woman prisoner worth $10,000, Daisy Domergue (black-eyed Jennifer Jason Leigh), who he wants to see hang in Red Rock. He likes punching her in the face and calling her “bitch.”
“When you get to hell, tell them Daisy sent you!” she tells her torturer.

“Got room for one more?” asks ex-Cavalry major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), who enjoyed fighting for the Union and wiping out “white southern crackers,” but now functions as a bounty hunter who prefers to bring in his quarry dead rather than alive: “I don’t want to work that hard,” he tells Ruth. He’s trying to deliver three frozen white corpses worth $8,000, but has lost his old horse in the snow. He likes to impress people with a letter from Abraham Lincoln addressed to him. Ruth calls them “pen pals,” one of many film anachronisms including current songs on the soundtrack. 

Another mystery figure is the coach’s next passenger, Confederate sympathizer Chris Mannix, who claims that he’s about to be sworn in as the new sheriff once he gets to Red Rock, played by “Justified” and “Django Unchained” star Walton Goggins. “Keeping you at a disadvantage is something I intend to hang onto,” Ruth tells him. “Well I’ll be double dog-damned,” Mannix keeps saying.
The group are forced to stop at a remote inn on the road to Red Rock, in the face of a snow storm that threatens to hold them hostage for several days—assuming they live that long. Inside Minnie’s Haberdashery they find another assortment of suspicious men, including a grizzled Confederate General, well-played by Bruce Dern, and several others who may not be who they claim to be (“Reservoir Dogs” vets Michael Madsen and Tim Roth, and crafty Mexican star Demian Bichir).

Tarantino’s claustrophobic homage to “The Petrified Forest” or “Key Largo,” where a group of strangers trapped in a contained space need to figure out who the others are in order to survive, boasts stunning wide-screen photography, dazzling long takes, time-shifting perspectives, mysteries to be solved, wind blowing through kicked-in doors and window frames, surging horses, raging blizzards, knives, blazing guns, smoldering corpses, projectile vomiting and bodies piled on the floor. Who survives? And what does it all add up to? The last act is not the same as the one staged at the Ace Hotel reading. 

While Tarantino returns to the subject of American race relations—ex-slave Marquis Warren likes to provoke and kill the white men around him—he’s mostly enjoying setting up power dynamics and confrontations between his characters, and the actors are clearly having a blast with it. The first two acts roll along inexorably as Tarantino sets up the personal conflicts. But after the 12-minute intermission comes the last-act payoff, during which Tarantino attempts to tie up his story strands via an awkward voiceover narration (by him) as well as an elaborate flashback showing us who’s who and how they got to Minnie’s. The flashback violates the tension he has created; there must have been a better way to deliver the denouement. 

While some detractors question the use of wide-screen 70 mm for this enclosed drama, watching Tarantino’s skill placing the camera and taking full advantage of the space and his actors is well worth the price of admission. 

Read other reviews from around the web below: 

Eric Kohn, Indiewire:
“Welcome back to Planet Quentin, a self-contained universe of cinematic pastiche, outrageous dialogue, cartoonish violence and labyrinthine storytelling that plows ahead while veering off on tangents every which way. These vibrant ingredients have been the touchstones of Tarantino’s oeuvre for nearly 25 years, but ‘The Hateful Eight’ unleashes them in a wild, unvarnished stream of possibilities. This is not a filmmaker whose work tends to show signs of compromise, but the unwieldy excesses of ‘The Hateful Eight’ proves he can get away with anything.”

Peter Debruge, Variety:
“[T]he helmer’s eighth feature initially appears to be an entry half-wasted, falling into the more disappointing B-movie category of Tarantino’s oeuvre, wherein he takes second-rate genres and gives them the most impressive possible spin. There’s no denying he’s been down this road before, whether it was reheating the spaghetti Western to such spectacular effect in ‘Django Unchained’ or exploiting the distrust among eight other near-strangers in ‘Reservoir Dogs’ at the outset of his career. Familiarity aside, however, the movie absolutely delivers on the sheer moment-to-moment pleasures fans have come to expect, from dynamite dialogue to powder-keg confrontations.”

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter:
“There is absolutely no doubt about who wrote the elaborate, pungent, profane and often funny dialogue that a fine cast chews over and spits out with evident glee, nor as to who staged the ongoing bloodbath that becomes a gusher in the final stretch. But set mostly in the confined space of a remote haberdashery/stagecoach stop, the stagebound piece plays like a weird combination of John Ford’s ‘Stagecoach’Agatha Christie’s ‘Ten Little Indians’ and Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘No Exit,’ albeit with a word count closer to Eugene O’Neill’s ‘The Iceman Cometh.'”

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