Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"The Hateful Eight" -- Movie Review

This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening for the New York City Premiere of “The Hateful Eight”, the new Western written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.
When a group of treacherous roughnecks from either side of the law are forced to share a cabin while waiting out a blizzard, will tempers flare or can they get along until the storm subsides?
A few years after America’s Civil War, noted bounty hunter John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) has captured his latest prisoner:  Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a murderess whom he must return to Red Rock, where she’ll be hung by the neck until dead.  While taking a stagecoach during a raging snow, they are confronted by Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), an African-American Army Officer famed for leading Northern troops during the war.  Warren, also having taken the bounty hunting route, has killed his prisoners and must bring them to Red Rock to collect his money.  Reluctantly, Ruth allows a forcibly-unarmed Warren to join him, loading his prisoners atop the coach.
As the snow intensifies, they cross paths with Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be the new sheriff at Red Rock; he also requests permission to board the already-crowded coach, but Ruth again demurs.  Once Mannix explains that neither men will be paid until and unless he reaches Red Rock to get his badge, they allow him to join them.  By now, the storm has become an outright blizzard and it is no longer safe -- or possible -- for them to continue.  The group is forced to delay their excursion by taking refuge at Mimi’s Haberdashery, a cabin where they can rest, eat and wait for the storm to pass.  
Arriving at the stagecoach house, things immediately get a little claustrophobic when they discover that there are others already present, apparently waiting out the storm also:  Bob (Demian Bichir), a Mexican Mimi left in charge to run the place while she was out of town; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), who turns out to be The Executioner being sent to Red Rock to hang Daisy; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowhand en route to visit family just a few miles outside of Red Rock; and the elderly General Smithers (Bruce Dern), a former Confederate soldier there to bury his recently-deceased son.  
Before long, these men get on each other’s nerves and things begin to take a turn for the insanely violent.  With memories of the war still fresh, Warren and Smithers continue the feud, further exacerbated by their different races.  Ruth, continually arguing with a belligerent Daisy, grows increasingly paranoid that someone is going to deny him the bounty he’s due; afraid that one of these strangers may run off to Red Rock with Daisy in order to collect the bounty himself, he argues with just about every man in the cabin.  Since no one seems capable of calming any of these hotheads, will cooler heads prevail or will things become irrevocably deadly?
If a Grand Guignol ballet featuring a collection of borderline psychotic killers set out to maim, torture and/or murder  each other is something that will put you in the holiday spirit, then “The Hateful Eight” is your Feel-Good Movie Of The Year.  In many respects, “The Hateful Eight” is vintage Tarantino, with the proper recipe of savage bloodlust mixed with black humor that has deservedly provided the filmmaker an extraordinarily successful career.  The entire cast embraces their cartoonish characterizations; Jennifer Jason Leigh deserves an award of some kind for blowing a massive snot-rocket from her right nostril.  
The problem with “The Hateful Eight” is the same that vexed Tarantino in certain of his other works:  it’s too damned long.  In some regards, it feels like Tarantino has crafted a stage play rather than a screenplay.  For one thing, the story mostly takes place within a single set -- the cabin where these people are trapped by the inclement weather.  Another reason is due to the script being dialog-laden.  This may sound peculiar given that there’s so much action, but consider this:  it’s what contributes to “The Hateful Eight” getting to a length of three hours.    A number of long sequences of dialog reveal both exposition and character background. Normally, not necessarily a bad thing, but one must question whether it justifies the film’s length.
There are many clever moments in “The Hateful Eight”.  These are not just the jokes (both visual and verbal) but also the plot twists that are intricately and logically weaved into the main story.  The characters never see them coming and neither will you.  In some ways, “The Hateful Eight” feels less like a Western and more like a Hitchcockian suspense movie; in his own way, Tarantino has invented a means to pay a homage to both genres in one film.  Nicely played.  “The Hateful Eight” is incredible fun albeit oppressive in its length; it’s a movie worth seeing in theaters, provided you both take your bathroom break and buy your snacks before it begins.
A discussion of the screening itself may be in order.  At the outset, Harvey Weinstein introduced Tarantino, who in turn introduced most of the major players in the cast (Jackson was MIA).  The version of the film we saw was the 70mm print Tarantino has been touting; the filmmaker asked the audience who had seen a film in 70mm and who had not -- not too many hands went up in response to either question.  This so-called “Roadshow” screening was done in grand style:  it began with an Overture of the movie’s sensational Ennio Morricone score and also contained an intermission (despite the opportunity to bail out at that point, most stayed).  If you do decide to see this motion picture, definitely make the effort to find a theater featuring it with 70mm projection -- it’s more worth it than most 3D films that have recently been released.  

The Hateful Eight (2015) on IMDb

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