Thursday, January 7, 2016

Movie Review: The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino   
Written by: Quentin Tarantino.
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson (Major Marquis Warren), Kurt Russell (John Ruth), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Daisy Domergue), Walton Goggins (Sheriff Chris Mannix), Demián Bichir (Bob), Tim Roth (Oswaldo Mobray), Michael Madsen (Joe Gage), Bruce Dern (General Sandy Smithers), James Parks (O.B Jackson), Dana Gourrier (Minnie Mink), Zoë Bell (Six-Horse Judy), Lee Horsley (Ed), Gene Jones (Sweet Dave), Keith Jefferson (Charly), Craig Stark (Chester Charles Smithers), Belinda Owino (Gemma), Channing Tatum (Jody)

Quentin Tarantino is probably in the most interesting stretch of his career at this point – showing interesting progression from one to the other (not necessarily improving with every movie – but certainly changing). The Hateful Eight completes Tarantino’s trifecta of movies set in the past – his alternate histories as they were, in which historical wrongs are righted in a hail of gunfire. The difference between The Hateful Eight and the previous two films, is that this time Tarantino isn’t so much righting the wrongs of history, as he is struggling with them. This is the first Tarantino film that made me genuinely uncomfortable for large stretches – and I don’t mean that as a criticism, but rather a compliment. Tarantino is posing interesting questions about race and, I think, gender throughout the film – but does so in a way that some people will undoubtedly find offsensive (it does not surprise me that the film has been called racist and misognystic by some – but I do not understand it). True, some people will probably take the film in ways Tarantino does not intend – the three idiots who sat behind me in the movie, and thought that everything that happened in the movie was a laugh riot are an example of that. But The Hateful Eight is a challenging film – and unlike his last two films doesn’t provide any of the characters, nor the audience, with a happy ending. It’s a messy, imperfect film – but I loved every second of it.

The film is about a series of nine (yes nine, although James Parks’ lovable O.B. is nice guy, so he cannot be one of the hateful eight) strangers who are all trapped at Minnie’s Haberdashery in the middle of nowhere as a blizzard descends on them. There is John Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter taking his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to hang in a nearby town. As they race to make Minnie’s before the blizzard comes in, they come across Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) – another bounty hunter, and perhaps a Civil War hero, and eventually give him a ride. They will also run across Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), on his way to the new town to become Sheriff – whose daddy was a famous Rebel, and habors romantic visions of the old South. When they arrive at the haberdashery, they find Minnie gone – and a Mexican named Bob (Demian Bichar) is running the place in her absence. Three random strangers are also there – Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the local hangman (although he is British), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowhand on his way home for Christmas, and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) – a Civil War general, and not on the same side as Marguis – and he’s none too pleased to be sharing a place with him neither. Throughout the three hour running time of the movie this group of will doing a lot of talking – much of it lies, but what parts is open for debate. Like characters in a Agatha Christie novel – or a teenage horror movie for that matter – they will start dying, one by one (sometimes more), and you start to wonder if any of them are even going to survive the blizzard.

The film’s best performance belongs to Jackson as Marquis Warren – who as the only black man in the building, knows that everyone else is eyeing him with suspicion, and he has to be extra careful if he’s going to make it through. The key to his character may well be the so called Lincoln Letter he carries around him, who uses it to get precisely the reaction he requires, even if it isn’t so true (something you should remember as the first half draws to the close with a brutal flashback –which is the closest Tarantino comes to a revenge fantasy of his last two films – but I think is even more fantasy than normal). Marquis has to the be the smartest guy in the room – or he’s dead. He’s also capable of being as a brutal and violent as any of the rest.

The supporting performances all come close to matching Jackson’s intensity. Jennifer Jason Leigh is a profane, racist, funny character – who also, strangely, becomes arguably the most sympathetic of the eight, if only because she is subjected to far more violence than the rest – she takes the punishment, but also shows just how smart she is – like Jackson’s Marquis, she also needs to put on some sort of act for the rest of them – it isn’t easy to be the only woman in this group. Out of all of them, she may deserve her fate the least. Walton Goggins starts out as a racist caraciture as Chris Mannix, but gruadlly he does take on additional levels, and ends up being one of the best in the movie. I also loved Kurt Russell’s performance as John Ruth – he’s clearly doing a riff on John Wayne throughout the movie, and his brutally against Daisy, exposes he darker side of the Duke’s persona (which could be rather misogynistic itself). It’s a big performance to be sure – but Russell nails it.

There are things that made me uncomfortable during The Hateful Eight. It isn’t easy to see Daisy get repeatably beat up, and her end fate is the cruelest in the movie. I don’t believe the film is misognystic – his portrayal of Daisy is largely sympathetic, even if everyone else in the movie hates her (hell, she is what brings together the racists and the black man in the end) – I never thought Tarantino did (and despite the laughter behind me, I didn’t find the moments where Russell hits her funny – they are disturbingly violent). This is a film that raises more questions in America’s attitude towards race – and gender – than it answers – and I mean that in a good way.

It is also a technical marvel. Robert Richardson’s brilliant 70MM cinematography is some of the best work in a long, and brilliant career. Ennio Morricone’s dread filled score – his first for a Western in decades – is easily the best of the year. It also, obviously, has a lot of great dialogue, as we expect from Tarantino.

The film is a fitting cap to Tarantino’s exploration of the past. It is less perfect than either Inglorious Basterds or Django Unchained – it’s messy and violent, and contradictory –and absolutely brilliant. Tarantino continues to push himself farther each time out – and he keeps pulling it off.

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