MOVIE REVIEW: The Hateful Eight
"THE HATEFUL EIGHT"-- 3 STARS
Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino already holds the distinctions of talented, energetic, political, inspired, cool, violent, stylish, aficionado, artist, and satirist to many film fans. He has dug himself out of "Deathproof" eight years ago to deliver his two biggest box office successes, his Oscar-winning "Inglourious Basterds" and his 2012 smash "Django Unchained." Poised with the flashy 70mm release of "The Hateful Eight," Tarantino himself stated in GQ that it "could be my best movie." To quote his Vincent Vega from "Pulp Fiction," "that's a bold statement."
Here's another. It is time to go on record and add another label to the colorful list to describe filmmaker Quentin Tarantino: "acquired taste." Even with his recent success, the auteur's excessive and aestheticized indulgences are catching up to him. Each subsequent film of his may be getting more popular, but they are not getting better and "The Hateful Eight" hammers that point home. Swelled to either a 167-minute straight cut or a 187-minute opus complete with overture and intermission, Tarantino's newest film doesn't know when to quit. It just goes and dies, literally and figuratively.
"The Hateful Eight" opens in stylish Tarantino fashion. The familiar font of his opening credits play behind choice period-homage musical score composed by the now-87-year-old great Ennio Morricone. A stagecoach emerges in the background, riding through the hilly Wyoming snow, closer to a symbolic frozen wooden crucifix in our foreground. Pure Tarantino. Aboard that wagon is the surly bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell). He has shackled himself to his latest $10,000 collar, the gang member Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason-Leigh).
Ruth and his driver O.B. (James Parks) are on the road to Red Rock when they are stopped by another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), who was carrying three dead trophies of his own before his horse gave out. After some inital paranoia, the two compromise to act as mutual protection for each other's haul in exchange for Ruth giving Major Warren a ride the rest of the way. Soon, they gain another passenger in Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins), who claims to be the newly elected sheriff of Red Rock.
The blizzard gets worse and the stagecoach is forced to take shelter at Minne's Haberdashery, a general store and watering hole. There, Ruth, Warren, Daisy, and Mannix find a lodge filled with an ensemble of questionable personas. The Mexican, Bob (Demian Bichir), is caretaking Minne's while the owner is way. An old racist Confederate general by the name of Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) remains seated by the hearth while quiet farmhand Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) keeps to himself penning a written journal nearby. The welcoming talker of the crowd is Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock. All of them are stuck together until the blizzard dies down and the road melts ahead.
There is no questioning Quentin Tarantino's flair with the pen to write rich and boisterous characters operating in and out of catchy and lengthy conversations. He has always been cinema's Chatty Cathy with the gift of gab. His dialogue-driven narratives burst with quotable panache and beguiling swagger. Tarantino brings the fullest enthusiasm out of this cast.
Samuel L. Jackson is Tarantino's most exemplary muse and leads with deadly, coiled glee. Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, two fellow Tarantino veterans, make it look easy while newer collaborators, Kurt Russell (with a natural mustache for the ages), Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Walter Goggins, get their most plum roles in years. The cast isn't the problem and neither is the film's look. Cinematographer Robert Richardson soaks in the wide Colorado location exteriors and exposes every fleck of dirt and blood indoors to make the most out of the vibrant 70mm print. For aesthetic appeal, the use of film was a winning expense.
The culprits that knocks down "The Hateful Eight" is fluidity and pace. Morricone's score comes and goes with long breaks and is used too infrequently to garner the proper effect. The rest of the blame goes to the writer and director himself. Because of its exhausting length, the film takes its dear sweet time spelling out its six demarcated chapters and getting to both business and a point. Pace yourself as a viewer and prepare to fight boredom. It takes 37 minutes just to get to Minnie's and about 90 minutes until the tension snaps and its violent Agatha Christie-style theatrics begin.
If all of the long-winded build-up of tough talk was meant to lull us, it eventually works because "The Hateful Eight" turns on its ear after that 90 minute mark. Things get violent, weird, and dismal in a hurry. When it should be peaking, the film tailspins with forced dramatic irony and an "earlier this morning" deviating and unnecessary switchback plot section that stalls momentum solely to over-explain and show off its long con and central twist. Rather, give the actors a chance to play their mysterious hands through and us credit as an audience to figure it out instead of give it away. As a revenge western with a strong atmosphere of tension, everything about its narrative could have been more taut and compelling with a little more purpose and less Tarantino braggadocio. Lesson #1 says it all.
LESSON #1: QUENTIN TARANTINO NEEDS TO HIRE MORE EDITORS-- The man writes Oscar-winning dialogue better than most all of his cinematic peers and we could watch some of those memorable exchanges all day, but it is becoming too much. "Inglourious Basterds" was 153 minutes and "Django Unchained" was 165. "The Hateful Eight" isn't better served by 167 or 187 minutes. Only his ego is. Hone the sculpture with another screenwriter, Quentin. Trim the fat. Let editor Fred Raskin ("Guardians of the Galaxy") do his job and share the kitchen.
LESSON #2: FRONTIER JUSTICE VERSUS CIVIL JUSTICE-- Ruth and Mobray share a bar conversation about the difference between these two forms of law and authority. Frontier justice is passionate, personal, and bent on the heat of the moment or revenge. Civil justice is where the adjudication is meted out by those deputized with the proper authority and contrasting dispassion. Take a guess which wins in a Tarantino western.
LESSON #3: ALWAYS BEING MINDFUL OF YOUR SURROUNDING THREATS-- This is the nicest way of saying "watch your ass." None of these colorful characters are who they seem to be. Each of them have their secrets, agendas, allegiances, and motives for either taking life or preserving their own. Have your own survival plan and don't wait for the bullets, unless they are coming out of your own gun.