Wonderfully acted, with a disappointing third act
Summary : The Hateful Eight is as good as it is bad.
elease date: December 25, 2015
(limited; wide: Jan. 1)
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Director: Quentin Tarantino
MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity)
Screenwriter: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, , Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir, Walton Goggins, Channing Tatum
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There was a time, long ago, when I looked forward to the next Quentin Tarantino film. Once upon a time his films were exciting, full of unexpected turns and shocking events, and each film brought something new to the library of film. Yes his films are always homages to other filmmakers, but the execution of his homage was always unique and interesting.
The Hateful Eight continues Tarantino’s homage pedigree. He obviously continues to draw on influences of filmmakers who’ve come before him. This time out it’s the great spaghetti westerns (as he did with Django Unchained). And like Django, he’s mixing genres. Not only is this a western, it’s also a who-dun-it, like a great Agatha Christie story set in a filthy Old West backdrop.
The Hateful Eight starts off incredibly strong, on the backbone of outstanding performances from the film’s four main actors. The costumes, the setting, the weather, the writing all make for a compelling and interesting playground for Tarantino’s performers to play in. The biggest surprise being the film’s sudden turn into a murder mystery as it goes into the second act. Unfortunately, Tarantino’s bag-of-tricks that were once shocking and ground-breaking are now old-hat and have become his storytelling crutch. This viewer’s interest began to wane as the third act began and the film essentially turns into Reservoir Dogs in the Old West. Tarantino, as a filmmaker, is running dangerously close to M. Night Shyamalan territory in his inability to finish his films in new ways. It seems, no matter what genre he tackles, Tarantino can’t finish a film in any other way than an over the top shoot-em-up gore fest. So disappointing.
The film’s story centers around two bounty-hunters trying to get their captured fugitives into the town of Red Rock to acquire their rewards. Kurt Russell turns on one of the best performances in a western that I have seen from any actor since The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. As John “The Hangman” Ruth, Russell portrays a man who is honorable and despicable all at the same time. His adherence to the law including his insistence that his bounties are brought in to hang rather than kill them outright is admirable and gives his character a weight as the film’s strange moral compass. Strange because he’s also prone to completely abusing his bounty. In this case Jennifer Jason Leigh in what is arguably one of the most solid performances of her career. When we meet her, Daisy Domergue, already sports a black eye. At the hands of her captor she’s beaten over and over, and remarkably she takes each beating without falling apart. Her mischievous eyes always full of energy and her mind is obviously always calculating and searching for opportunity. In fact, Leigh’s Daisy may be the single toughest character in the entire film.
That’s saying something as the rest of the film includes Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren, a battle hardened colored officer of the Union Army turned bounty hunter. A character that Jackson also does a remarkable job portraying. His history, his hatred of racist white men, and his ability to survive in a world set out to destroy him makes Major Warren a fascinating and complex character.
Walton Goggins also puts in a stellar performance as Sheriff Chris Mannix. As a former confederate rebel army member and son of one of the Confederate’s biggest leaders Goggins brings a twisted complexity to a character that could have been very one dimensional. The nuances and changes his character goes through over the course of the film is amazing. Mannix goes from being down-right annoying to something of a ‘hero’ (as much as the film can call anyone that) in a fascinating and amazing turn.
The rest of the cast, including Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Demian Bichir do commendable jobs with their smaller roles. Tim Roth in particular is a major standout. The only piece of miscasting, in my opinion, is Channing Tatum. When his character makes an appearance I was completely pulled out of the film. It’s not because of his performance, which was adequate, his physical appearance is too clean. He’s too pretty. In a film filled with dirty, grungy, rotting people Tatum looks too clean and too well kept. It’s a distraction and I would have expected Tarantino to have made sure that he looked the part, but for some reason it looked like efforts were made to preserve Tatum’s pretty boy image. What a disappointment.
And that brings me to the film itself. Tarantino has been making a huge fuss over the film being shot in 70mm film, even going so far as to insist it’s screened that way in the theaters. I expected the film to be a huge, sweeping, western epic with the way Tarantino spoke of his need to film this movie on such a grand format. And to be fair, there is some visuals in the film that make excellent use of the format. Specifically about 10 minutes of the nearly three hour film are shot to make use of the format to immerse the viewer in the grand vistas of the old west. Sadly, the rest of the movie is shot in cramped quarters, small spaces that have no need for such a large format. Intimate spaces that lack the importance, and the spectacle to really make the 70mm format shine. The film is shot well, no doubt, but there is no need for 70mm. There is nothing to see here that makes the format interesting, or improves the film in any way. It’s confounding and ultimately became a distraction for me as I found myself wondering often through the film, “why?”