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Friday, December 25, 2015

Movie Review: 'The Hateful Eight'

The Hateful Eight is a torrid, exceedingly violent, and thrilling dance.

Review by Matt Cummings

Depending on your circles, Director Quentin Tarantino is either a brilliant and influential filmmaker or an over-the-top potty mouth who violates every social convention with his exceedingly violent fare. For me, I'm somewhere in the middle, ready to quote Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction but aware that he sometimes goes too far at the expense of his work. If you find yourself standing in the latter corner, you're going to despise The Hateful Eight for its excessive runtime and unnecessary violence. But if that's the case, you shouldn't have bought a ticket to this visceral throwback that's as crass and ugly as anything we've seen this year.

Stuck in a 1880's haberdashery in Wyoming, eight unsavory characters are forced to survive a blizzard, until two untimely deaths open the dogs of war and a bloody battle rages. On one side is the Union soldier-turned-mercenary Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), the bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell), and the felon Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who Ruth is bringing to a hanging. The other side includes the former Southern general Smithers (Bruce Dern), the racist Mannix (Walton Goggins), and a collection of others like Mobray (Tim Roth) and Joe Cage (Michael Madson). As Warren begins his investigation to uncover the killer, unlikely alliances must be formed if he or the others expect to leave the haberdashery alive.

Presented in 'glorious 70mm,' The Hateful Eight is as profane as they get, but it's also a beautifully shot, well-executed affair with so many one-liners that fans will be quoting them as soon as they emerge blurry-eyed from the theater. In the expanded format - available only in certain cities - audiences will be treated to individual flakes of snow and sweeping vistas, while experiencing a pressure cooker of post-Civil War racism and cursing that Tarantino expertly mixes in the confined spaces of both a stagecoach and the haberdashery. Once all the characters have been established, it's time to start killing them off, and of course this is a Tarantino essential, mixing Shakespearean values with exploding heads and plenty of blood. The Hateful Eight is also well-written, stating its character's points on a line in which everyone in the room is at least a little racist, a fact that actually doesn't play a part in the way the film ends. Some might wonder if such an omission ruins the impact of the film, something you'll have to determine should you decide to see it.

But, The Hateful Eight will cause the sharpest debate over three aspects to Tarantino's spectacle. At 3 hours and 5 minutes, it will appear to be overly long; and in many points throughout Act 1, I agree. There's a lot of setup - too much in fact - between Warren and Ruth, as they discuss Warren's Lincoln letter and just how ugly Domergue has been throughout her life. But it's sharply acted by the suddenly resurgent Russell and the always unflappable Jackson. Once the story cranks up, the rest of the affair will seem to fly by. Acts 2 & 3 are like a classic whodunit: who was in what position when someone in the room buys it, and who had what to gain by their death.

The Hateful Eight also sports an incredibly long Overture - nearly five minutes long - from Composer Ennio Morricone. An architect of the Spaghetti Western style (big horns, choir vocals, and Spanish guitar), this Overture is nothing of the sort. It doesn't keep our attention, unlike the last time I remember seeing such a thing, in 1978's Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It's brilliant if they pull it off, but sounds audacious if they don't. But as always, a Tarantino film is usually filled with the n-word in proliferation; here it happens so much that at some point you want to yell at the screen, "Yeah! We get it!" True, Americans North and South referred to them as such, but they also called them Negros, a word we do not hear uttered at all. I get that its use informs us about the time period, but it overuse threatens to derail the story at certain points.

And still, I can forgive all of Tarantino's errors - including his unnecessary voice-over after the Intermission (he just can't help himself) - because the rest of The Hateful Eight is just so damn good. Filled with quotable lines and terrific ensemble performances, it's also beautifully presented in 70mm. If you're lucky to be in one of the cities where the Roadshow edition is being presented, I couldn't recommend more that you see with the Intermission and big-screen aspect ratio intact. It will hearken back to the days when theaters sold programs of their movies (which they do here as well). One performance you might not see coming is that of Goggins' Mannix, whose growth from bumbling, hateful, racist Southern fool to hero is perhaps the most satisfying thing about the experience.

The Hateful Eight is an excessive, exceedingly violent whodunit filled with enough sharp dialogue to keep the audience awake well even with its unnecessarily long run time. But that's Tarantino, and you either love or hate him for it. And while not his best, I will be seeing again, if for nothing else to enjoy a much-needed Intermission that studios ought to consider re-instituting.

The Hateful Eight is rated R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity and has a runtime of 168 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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