Quentin Tarantino has lost his way, all one can hope for is that it’s a one film only slip-up. Anticipation runs high, for Tarantino boasted to the press how he has brought back Ultra Panavision 70mm for The Hateful Eight (the format for widescreen, big sky epics!) yet it’s a disingenuous decision considering he claustrophobically bottles up the drama inside a saloon for the majority of the running time. Instead of the snappy repartee that we get from vintage Tarantino, this time, his snowed-in western is a bombastically talky movie with characters hiding motives all too artificial, individuals hyperbolizing their reputations, flinging insults that often land with a thud – and by God, so much time had passed being uneventful, I couldn’t wait for when somebody in ire to shoot somebody else. You take guesses who is going to die first, but even the fun of that is sucked out because more than half the cast are thin, clichéd characters. Really, there are at least three boring, mentally deficient yokels among the eight.
There are three actors who at least command your attention. Kurt Russell (doing a bellicose John Wayne impersonation) is a bounty hunter who shackles to his arm Jennifer Jason Leigh (doing a gimmicky but amusing hillbilly drawl) to collect a $10,000 reward on her in a town called Red Rock. Samuel L. Jackson is Major Marquis Warren, an ex-slave turned anti-Confederate war hero who is the sly orator among this cast’s quasi-wild bunch. He sizes up the liars in the room like an Agatha Christie protagonist. But Jackson also is attached to the movie’s most ludicrous segment.
When Major Warren takes us into a revenge flashback, about how he orally raped the son of the man who stands before him, I kept my eyes peeled for some kind of major metaphor. Tarantino has always been a subversive artist who shocks us, even appalls us, but raises our doubts when he gets us thinking about racial violence and hatred that’s resonant with our times. But here, the whole scene, and the descriptive words used by Major Warren as he rapes and kills his victim, is distasteful and immature. Well, I didn’t find it horribly distasteful, per se, nor did I find the rest of the movie as viciously distasteful have already declared in the press. Yet there’s a bullshit detector that goes off in my head that tells me that this scene belongs nowhere in a story set in nineteenth century America.
With no socio-political statement, no moral position, and no honest character study to be had, “The Hateful Eight” comes off as a purposeless exercise. For the first time with a Tarantino movie, not only is there not enough to look at, not only are the revealing of true identities unconvincing, but the most palpable suspense is about how far will the movie go to abuse its’ only cast female (the truth: I wasn’t that offended). Even the final scene is dramatically unsatisfying since it doesn’t even have anything interesting to say about Old West alliances.
I wasn’t bored out of my mind with it, but I’ve never finished a Tarantino movie and felt empty inside. Until now.
187 Minutes. Rated R.
WESTERN / VIOLENT THRILLERS / LATE NIGHT BLOODLUST
Film Cousins: “Hombre” (1967); “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974); “The Thing” (1982); “Django Unchained” (2012).