Movie Review: “The Hateful Eight”

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“The Hateful Eight” is Quentin Tarantino’s latest genre mashup, a violent, profane and funny updating of the Golden Age of TV Westerns.

Horses pulling a stagecoach pound through the snow, hard men threaten, curse each other and slap the tar out of a hard woman, shots are fired and blood is spilled. They all pile into a roadhouse, a saloon, Minnie’s Haberdashery, and ride out blizzard — “Ten Little Indians” style. And they’re killed off. One by one. Sometimes two by two.

Stretched to three hours, including a pointless (old fashioned) overture and intermission, a little afterthought narration, does it live up to the “Cinema Event” Tarantino has hyped it as? Hell no. It’s just a minimalist Spaghetti Western suffering from auteur bloat — sometimes entertaining,  with not even remotely enough story or action to support its insufferable length and “gravitas.”

It’s like an R-rated riff on “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” or more exactly, an episode of the late 1960 TV series “The Rebel,” whose episode “Fair Game” apparently provided the narrative framework for the film.

Kurt Russell heads this cast of archetypes. He’s the bounty hunter, John Ruth, “The Hangman,” hell-bent on delivering this “dangerous” woman, Daisy Domergue, (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in the best role she’s had in decades) to justice. Just how dangerous is she?

“She ain’t no John Wilkes Booth.”

Samuel L. Jackson is the dapper, overdressed and well-armed Army vet, Major Marquis Warren, who stops their private hire stagecoach.  He can ride with them, providing he drops his guns, slowly, “molasses like.”

A racist badman turned lawman (Walton Goggins) also hitches a lift. And then they arrive at Minnie’s to wait out the storm. That’s where “The Cow Puncher” (Michael Madsen, looking nothing like a cowboy, playing with his hair the whole time), the English Fop (Tim Roth, perfect) and The Confederate Officer (Bruce Dern) are already ensconced, with only the Mexican, Bob (Demian Bichir) to look after them.

Nowhere in sight? Minnie.

The wary new arrivals wonder about this set-up, John Ruth especially. And in this drafty, roomy “haberdashery,” schemes and intrigues will turn up, bullets will fly, anecdotes about the late war (men from both sides are here) and “The Cause,” will be related.

And pretty much one and all find some excuse to drop assorted N-bombs on Jackson’s Major. Dapper or not, he’s still barely half a step up the social ladder from the hateful Daisy Domergue, and not just in Tarantinoland.

The pleasures are in those anecdotes — about the late President Lincoln, atrocities committed during the war, desperadoes doing desperate deeds — Tarantino cooks up. Characters speak in a more modern vernacular than you’d like, a common Tarantino failing.

The drafty, more expansive than claustrophobic  saloon makes an interesting crucible.  The mystery is less mysterious than you’d hope, and some of the plot twists, introduced in “Chapters” that break the three act piece into smaller fragments, are clumsy. But the cast — several of whom are Tarantino veterans — is game, with only Madsen standing out as a weak choice. Russell bites off lines with gusto, Jackson is…well, Jackson. And Leigh delivers menace and true hatefulness in every brown-toothed close-up.

After an opening act (the stagecoach ride) that shows promise, the picture settles into a watchable bloat that should have you planning your bathroom breaks with care. The novelty of making a nicely-detailed Western in this day and age loses its bite if you’ve seen Russell’s low-budget indie thriller, “Bone Tomahawk,” or Adam Sandler’s spoof of this film, “The Ridiculous 6.” Hollywood can still manage a convincing Horse Opera on a budget.

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But there simply isn’t enough here to justify this long a wallow in Tarantino-land. An overture? For a movie with very little music actually in it? Talk about overkill. “Kill Bill,” this ain’t.

 

MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity

Cast: Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins, Channing Tatum
Credits: Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. A Weinstein Co. release.

Running time: 2:48

 

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5 Responses to Movie Review: “The Hateful Eight”

  1. Kevin says:

    This is the best QT movie since Pulp Fiction

    • No. It isn’t. Not quite up to “Jackie Brown” or the first “Kill Bill.” “Inglourious” and “Django”? Yeah.

    • NZT says:

      “Best”? Nah. It may be his ugliest, nastiest, and most self-indulgent though.

      I’ll give it some credit: the movie builds up tension well once it finally gets properly underway and twists start happening, it’s beautifully shot, the haunting score works well, and there are a few enjoyable scenery-chewing performances. So, hats off to the cinematographer, composer, and cast.

      As for the director, this is another entry from Pseudo-Political Wannabe-Prestige-Director Tarantino, so of course it’s all about Evil Racists (or Evil Nazis, or Evil Patriarchs) getting emasculated, sexually violated and explosively disembowled/decapitated, just in time for Christmas. Honestly though death probably came as a sweet release after hours of Samuel L. Jackson’s on-the-nose droning about “black folks is only safe when white folks are disarmed” like a BLM protestor, even though in real life 80-90% of black gun deaths are caused by other blacks.

      Tarantino’s glib, preachy caricature lacks any moral sophistication or empathy, in fact the point seems to be to dehumanize political opponents and cheer their violent deaths, like a Goebbels for our time. The maudlin final scene takes a halfhearted stab at reconciliation, clashing badly with the implacable hatred and chaos that preceded it (maybe segregation wasn’t so horrible after all, if this is the alternative). Mainstream critics will love it, but at the end of the day it’s juvenile trash only partly redeemed by skillful craftsmanship from the cast and crew.

      Incidentally, if you get a chance go to Youtube and watch Tarantino on Howard Stern as he stammers, stutters, and babbles his frustration at Hateful Eight getting bumped from some landmark LA theater in favor of Star Wars. For all the tough-guy posturing in his movies he sure seems like an awkward dork in real life (Stern calls him a childish weirdo to his face and he just giggles uncomfortably about it).

  2. JIm says:

    Thank goodness for a filmmaker who at least attempts to make a big movie with actual dialogue and present it in a great medium–70MM. Tarantino makes his movies for an audience who gives a flip about presentation (the “old fashioned Overture and Intermission,” not the usual big screen video-game-music-video-jump-cut editing crap.

    • I think everybody was behind the general idea of the picture. But the movie is basically an R-rated version of a TV Western. Slight. And the 70mm thing is more hype than anything else. Most theaters no longer have working 70mm celluloid projectors. Where I live, there are two theaters scheduled to show it in the roadshow configuration, neither has a working 70mm projector. I dare say this is common all over the country. There might be, for instance, one or two places in all of Florida that can project that format. And they don’t have it booked.

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