Sunday, January 3, 2016

'The Hateful Eight' review

Mr. Tarantino. You never fail to surpass all my expectations.

After a three-year break in the aftermath of his Oscar-nominated and critically acclaimed antebellum revenge fantasy Django Unchained, the brilliant Quentin Tarantino is back with The Hateful Eight. And man, has he put on a show. For his latest foray into the western genre, Tarantino has gone all out and the technology behind this movie has become almost as much of a hot topic as the movie itself. For those who are out of the loop, I'll catch you up. 70mm film has pretty much been a dead format for years. Sure, Christopher Nolan used it for Interstellar and Paul Thomas Anderson dabbled with the format for The Master and Inherent Vice, but there hadn't been a widely released 70mm film in years. Until Tarantino came along. Shooting in Ultra Panavision 70 with the same lenses that were used on Ben-Hur, the famed director crafted a new western filled with the vivid details and exemplary sound that 70 mm offered. But most importantly, with the help of The Weinstein Company, 100 theaters around the country retrofitted one of their auditoriums for the projection of 70mm, giving Tarantino the ability to do a special "Roadshow" release (I was lucky enough to live near one of the theaters). The 70mm Roadshow features an overture and an intermission, and the audience receives a program as well. It makes moviegoing an event again.

But with all of the flash surrounding The Hateful Eight, audiences might be wondering- is there actually a good film at the heart of this cinematic event? Yes. A thousand times yes. A million times yes. If you ever thought that Tarantino would fail us by using old school theatrics to distract from a weak script, you were dead wrong. Tarantino has crafted a Western that uses everything that the format has to offer to amplify the wonderful dialogue and blisteringly intense setting at the heart of his latest racially charged masterpiece. With a cast of wonderful actors, gorgeous cinematography, a perfect score from Ennio Morricone and an explosion of some of Tarantino's signature graphic violence, The Hateful Eight is infinitely compelling and endlessly entertaining. Our most innovative director has succeeded in creating a tightly wound film that makes for a wonderful moviegoing experience. This is a cinephile's nirvana.

A blizzard is fast approaching. Stagecoach driver O.B. (James Parks) is trying to make it out before the storm gets really bad. Inside the stagecoach is John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter attempting to get to Minnie's Haberdashery with his $10K bounty, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), without running into any trouble. However, the ride to Minnie's doesn't go as planned. First, Ruth and O.B. find Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) in the snow. Armed with a group of dead bodies and two deadly pistols, Warren is attempting to get up to Red Rock to get his bounty money. Initially paranoid of Warren, Ruth eventually invites him to climb aboard. Later in the ride, Ruth and Warren encounter Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a former Rebel renegade rider who claims to be the new Sheriff of Red Rock. Of course, with a Union Major and a Confederate supporter in the same coach, things can get a little dicey.

But when they arrive at Minnie's, that's when things get very interesting. According to the man who helps them inside, another stagecoach arrived right before they came. Inside the haberdashery, there's General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), a famed Confederate leader who never gets out of his chair. There's Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a politely spoken Englishman who seems to be the hangman in Red Rock. In addition, we're introduced to Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a Cowboy type who silently sits in the back of the room writing his life story. And of course, Bob (Demian Bichir), the Mexican man who was put in charge of the Haberdashery while Minnie and Sweet Dave (the owners) went to visit her mother. But are all of these people who they say they are? John Ruth isn't so sure. And with 8 very different people in one room.......well, let's just say that things get violent.

The Hateful Eight is by far Quentin Tarantino's least commercial movie in several decades, if not ever. 187 minutes in length, filled with some of the most vicious violence we've ever seen from Tarantino, and with no real emotional hero to latch onto, The Hateful Eight is as bleak as it sounds. I would say that Kill Bill is gorier and Django Unchained is probably still his most violent film overall, but there's a certain level of, well, hatefulness that goes into the violence in this film that makes it rather difficult to stomach at times. This is a dark comedy at its absolute darkest. Tarantino's pitch of "Eight strangers in a room that kill each other," is pretty spot-on.

But with that concept and with that darkly evil spirit, Tarantino has concocted something that is wholly unique in his filmmography. The Hateful Eight is an almost interactive experience, especially when coupled with the 70mm Roadshow edition. There's a lot of movies these days that you just watch and feel completely detached from. It may be a good movie, or it may not, but there are very few films that utilize the audience to good effect. Even great films like The Big Short and The Wolf of Wall Street, films that feature lots of narrative tricks and fourth-wall breaking, don't have that inclusive spirit. The Hateful Eight does. This is a movie that pulls you into its universe and engulfs you in its mystery. From Tarantino's narration, to the dialogue, to the way that it's staged and styled, The Hateful Eight is a movie that demands to be seen with an audience and Tarantino knows that. This is a movie that feels like an event and I loved that about it.

But beyond the event aspects of the presentation, The Hateful Eight is a finely tuned and calibrated mystery film with so much tension that it feels like it could explode in a fiery ball of flames at any moment. Yes, the first half is slow. The first three chapters are a lot of setup and dialogue and there's not really a whole lot happening. At least on the surface. Before the burst of violence that concludes Chapter 3, notice how Tarantino builds the atmosphere and the intentions of the characters. Every little bit of dialogue matters. There's a lot that Tarantino has to say about race and the state of America (themes that I'm still dissecting and impacting days later), but more importantly, each line carries some kind of weight to the formation of the characters. Every hint, every suspicion, every bit of action or inaction- it all leads to the way that the second half of the film unfolds.

In the classic Tarantino fashion, it's a second half filled with crackerjack power and a nasty intensity. If you stick with this film through the sometimes slow, often dialogue-driven first act, you get the reward of a second act that works wonders. I love that Tarantino has brought back his chapter structure, something that was missing from Django Unchained (I'm not sure that it would have fit in that film, but I missed it nonetheless). The structure gives him the ability to hop through time a little bit and after the insanity of the fourth chapter, he's able to give the audience some context before a wild final chapter. I absolutely adore the way that this mystery unravels, drawing us further and further in before giving us a twist that we never saw coming. The comparison between Hateful and Reservoir Dogs is apt, but in every conceivable way, The Hateful Eight is the better film. It's unpredictable in ways that Reservoir isn't and Tarantino is an infinitely sharper master of filmmaking and screenwriting at this point in his career.

He's also a master at casting. Much of The Hateful Eight relies on the skills of Tarantino, but this cast is borderline magical. There's no real lead character- they're all horrible people anyways- so everybody in the cast is forced to work off one another. Samuel L. Jackson has the most substantial part (and as the only African-American in the cabin, the most thematically relevant one) and he is absolutely wonderful. Nobody knows how to work with Tarantino's dialogue like Sam Jackson and he's mesmerizing here. It's a terrific performance. Walton Goggins is equally brilliant, and he's at the point in his relationship with Tarantino that I can see him being a regular in the director's films. Goggins is funny in ways that the film desperately needs and despite the racial bend, his character ends up surprising you.

Kurt Russell is also phenomenal as John Ruth, who has one of the most wonderfully fleshed out characters in the whole film. Ruth is a paranoid man, but also one of principle- he's going to make sure that his targets hang no matter what. He's an overly suspicious, woman-beating crazy, and yet, there's something tragic about Ruth. And I guess you kinda feel bad for him for having to deal with Daisy Domergue, played to perfection by Jennifer Jason Leigh. She'll certainly get a nomination for this incredibly physical performance, driven by spit, blood and broken teeth. She creates a character that you'll love to hate. Michael Madsen and Tim Roth emphasize the Tarantino feel of the universe and they're fantastic- Madsen is playing right in his wheelhouse as the gruff Joe Gage, and Roth gives a truly unique performance as the very English Oswaldo Mobray (a role that I could have seen Christoph Waltz play). Rounding out the cast, James Parks is very likable as O.B., Demian Bichir is often tremendously funny as Bob, and believe it or not, Channing Tatum has a pretty big role. I'll let you see more of that one for yourself.

This is one of Tarantino's best ensembles and one of his sharpest scripts. There's no doubt there. But on top of that, it's a directorial feat and a technical wonder. Tarantino always gets praised for his screenplays, but people underestimate how good he is with the camera. He knows exactly how long to hold each shot and he's a master of staging, structure and editing. And he only gets better each time around. This is a significantly smaller film than what he's done the last few times, but that doesn't change the quality. The cinematography by Bob Richardson is luxurious and expansive, utilizing the 70mm format to great effect. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to see a real film print again and Richardson puts his all into making sure that he gets everything out of that ability- the colors are richer and the picture is crisper and cleaner. This time around, we also have the first Western original score from Ennio Morricone in decades, and it's a powerful piece of work. Tense and ominous, it proves just how brilliant Morricone is as a composer. When all of these elements combine together, The Hateful Eight is truly something to behold.

Quentin Tarantino has always said that he plans to stop making movies once he reaches 10 films. The Hateful Eight is his 8th film. I really don't want to see his career wind down. With The Hateful Eight, Tarantino proves that he's still the boldest, most thrillingly razor-sharp filmmaker in the game. Nobody does it like Tarantino right now, and when the day comes that he sends his directorial career into the sunset, it'll be a very sad one for the industry. But for now, it's just time to celebrate his continually masterful work. The Hateful Eight is everything that you could possibly want from a Tarantino movie and more- he turns this hard boiled Western into a reminder of why you fell in love with movies in the first place. When I saw The Hateful Eight, the audience laughed, clapped, looked away in disgust and sat on the edge of their seats. You don't get experiences like that too often. It takes a special film to do that.

The Hateful Eight is a very special film.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A+                                            (10/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, Joblo, The Guardian, Joblo

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