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Thursday, December 24, 2015

‘The Hateful Eight’ Is Tarantino’s Thrilling, Western Bonanza (Movie Review)

The Hateful Eight: 5 out of 5

This Christmas season gave me both a new Star Wars film and the 8th film from Quentin Tarantino, so that’s plenty of excitement right there. With The Force Awakens delivering the kind of satisfying feelings akin to the original trilogy I wanted, delving into The Hateful Eight means getting something original from one of my favorite filmmakers. Once again, Tarantino has delivered. The Hateful Eight is a tense and exciting piece of work from a writer/director who has only evolved for the better as a filmmaker, while still delivering on what he knows best.


In this case, The Hateful Eight is largely set in a stagecoach stopover known as Minnie’s Haberdashery. Set a few years following the end of the Civil War, a blizzard has forced several individuals to stop their journey to Red Rock and spend time with one another. Some of these men are bounty hunters, some have official duties in town to attend to and one or more may have other nefarious plans in mind. Whatever the case may be, everyone seems to have a reason to hate at least one other person they have been forced to share a shelter with, which will no doubt lead to one or more taking a bullet.

While Tarantino has come a long way since the grimy days of Reservoir Dogs and even the lower budget days of Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight puts him back in territory that feels familiar. There are distinct chapters that separate the parts of this story, only a handful of characters to deal with and a minimal number of settings to tell a cleverly woven story of deceit, revenge and justice. It is the years of experience and confidence behind Tarantino, however, which really pushes this film into a higher stratosphere of filmmaking.

Despite using one location as the main setting for this 3+ hour film, including its overture and intermission, Tarantino has decided to utilize the Ultra Panavision 70 format to make this film. He has actually used the same cameras used to film Ben-Hur in an effort to provide audiences with a true 65 mm experience.  It helps that the film features great shots of the surroundings of Minnie’s Haberdashery and the scenes leading up to it, but even the inside of this setting benefits greatly from this use of scope. We get to see an entire setting in grand shots, as well as intense close-ups.


The argument can be made as to whether or not this sense of scope is any better than the gorgeously filmed landscapes found in The Revenant, another western-themed story with lots of pretty sights shot digitally and arriving a week later than Tarantino’s opus, but it matters little. However you are able to view The Hateful Eight, it is the fantastic character work that really cements this film as another fantastic piece of work from a writer who really knows how to maximize entertainment value out of stories that have clear influences blended together into distinct features.

Starring as the ‘eight’ we have Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren, a Union solider turned bounty hunter. Warren begins the story by meeting up with John Ruth “The Hangman” (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter chained to fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). These three eventually find Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a southern renegade calling himself a sheriff. Once this group arrives at Minnie’s, they meet Bob (Demian Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). Each of these men has something to say, but it matters little to The Hangman, who just wants to be sure no one is after his bounty.

There really isn’t a weak link here, as the cast is very specifically tailored to each actor in the role, regardless of the initial intent. Of the pack, I could probably single out Jackson, Goggins and Leigh, but that just comes down to who I enjoyed seeing come alive the most. Russell is a welcome presence, as are Roth and Madsen, two of Tarantino’s oldest collaborators. Bichir is new to the group, but he fits right in as well. Then you have Dern, who adds a veteran’s perspective and still yields the great amount of joy you get from any eclectic cast from Tarantino.


True to form, Tarantino does not make it easy for any of these characters, nor does he attempt to sugarcoat anything that transpires. There is a sense of malice that comes across loud and clear from the way the others hurl the n-word at Jackson's character, let alone the violence that eventually strikes. It is particularly brutal, given the way we see how Domergue is treated, but it is not as if there is much to make a majority of these people seem like saints. Where I am bothered by the nastiness that is exhibited in certain films where it feels unjust, The Hateful Eight does not take shortcuts to show why its tone feels so appropriate.

This is part of what makes Tarantino such an engaging filmmaker. He shapes worlds and characters so precisely that it is always easy for me to latch onto the proceedings and go along for the ride he has in store. Coming off of Django Unchained, there still seems to be a level of racially-motivated social commentary he wants to explore. It comes in the form of a chamber drama that examines the role of identity, with hints of horror as well.

Among the influences you will find, it is no coincidence the film shares DNA with The Virginian and other western-themed properties, along with The Thing, which comes right down to the casting of Russell, the original score by Ennio Morricone and the inclusion of some of his unused tracks from John Carpenter’s horror classic. Everyone can have a field day with the various references pulled for this film really, as is the case with every Tarantino film. What matters is how he once again finds ways to remix material that he loves and turn it into something that comes alive in brand new ways.


I love seeing new films from Tarantino and it is never much of a case of whether or not I will like the film and more along the lines of how much I will love it. This could be considered a bias were it not for the fact that he consistently delivers exciting and original features that are populated by terrific characters, fantastic dialogue and a real eye for how to best capture his stories.

The Hateful Eight
feels like both new territory for the director and familiar in its staging. Even with a seemingly self-indulgent approach (a 3-hour film, deliberately shot with old school cameras), Tarantino continues to find ways to invest his viewers in all that he has to offer. And for what it’s worth I’d much rather be a part of this than take a bullet.





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