Saturday, January 2, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight
directed by Quentin Tarantino
This is Tarantino's eighth directed film. It seems as if he's done more than that. This film has almost all of the stylings and quirks which you've come to expect from a Tarantino production. There are snarky one liners, sarcastic asides, wordplay, riffs on things that appear not to matter that much, black buddy/white buddy motifs, implied danger masquerading as excessive politeness and twisted sexuality. This film also impresses with the cinematography. The Hateful Eight was shot in Colorado and used widescreen Panavision. The effect is reminiscent of several old Westerns and classic seventies films. Tarantino loves film, and it shows. Even if you're not otherwise a Tarantino fan you might want to look at this movie simply for its visual feast. The colors are a treat. The film is broken up by title cards and even has a spot for an intermission. Legendary composer Ennio Morricone scored this film and allowed Tarantino to use previously unreleased tracks. So the film is also an auditory experience. The Hateful Eight features many actors who've worked with Tarantino before. This movie also finds Tarantino continuing his gleeful, irreverent and occasionally painful or offensive inspection of America's obsession with race and sex-particularly how those two baseline concepts intertwine. Thematically The Hateful Eight picks up after Django Unchained. It takes place in an undefined time period after the Civil War, probably the 1870s or early 1880s. But that's not really important. Although slavery has been outlawed and blacks are theoretically equal citizens, no one black or white, really believes that blacks have equality. The white conservatives of the time are openly hateful of the freed blacks while the liberals are just as prone to racist language and beliefs. Racial hostility suffuses the movie and is never far from the story. If you can't tolerate racial venom being expressed in fictional creations, this is not the film for you. Dialogue is very important in this film, occasionally more so than plot.

The Hateful Eight is Tarantino's tilted take on a locked room mystery. A number of people find themselves unexpectedly forced to share lodgings during a Wyoming snowstorm. Most of them don't know each other and those who do know each other don't appear to like each other very much. This group includes Joe Ruth (Kurt Russell) a bounty hunter known as The Hangman for his insistence for bringing in criminals alive so that they can face the noose. Ruth is a brutal if honest man. His idea of telling someone to shut up involves an elbow to the nose. His current bounty is Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) a foul mouthed murderer. He's taking her to the town of Red Rock. On the road Ruth runs into Major Marquis Warren (Samuel Jackson) a former US Army officer (there actually were a handful of black officers in the Civil War) and Civil War vet who now also makes a living as a bounty hunter. As Warren is introduced to the viewer sitting on a pile of corpses, it's obvious, as Warren later cheerfully confirms, that he prefers to transport his bounties dead. Less trouble and less backtalk. As Ruth actually knows Warren from back in the day he's willing to give the stranded Warren a ride to the next lodging. When Ruth runs across the stranded Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins) a former Confederate soldier and Night Rider/KKK terrorist, he's a little less affable (not that Ruth is all that friendly to Warren) but when Mannix points out that he's actually Red Rock's new sheriff, Ruth decides not to take the chance of leaving the new sheriff to freeze to death. These men and their driver arrive at Minnie's Haberdashery, a lodge offering food and shelter. But Minnie's not around. The current inhabitants of the lodge are Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) a taciturn cowboy who claims to be writing his life's story, Oswaldo Mowbray (Tim Roth), the loquacious English born Red Rock hangman, quiet former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), and Bob (Demian Bichir), the man Minnie left in charge while she's off to visit her mother. All of these people, plus Ruth's driver O.B. (James Parks), must settle down for the night or as long as it takes the storm to pass.

As you might imagine the lodge's inhabitants very quickly notice things they don't like or trust about each other. A little thing like jellybeans on the floor can set suspicions aflame. Obviously a black Union soldier and two Confederates won't see eye to eye on very much. Tarantino effectively builds the tension in the lodge. I liked that the film did not (pun intended) whitewash the dedication to white supremacy which both animated the Confederate cause and flowed virtually unchecked through 19th century America. Nevertheless The Hateful Eight still has some deliberately anachronistic elements around race. The film also takes care to play with your perception of who the heroes are or even if there are any heroes. Ruth is presented initially as a good guy but has no problem putting hands or elbows or pistol butts on Daisy for any transgression, physical or not. Another character points out that women can kill you just as easily as men can but also die just as easily as men do. Not just content to dirty up the heroes a bit this movie also interrogates the techniques that black people use to avoid or survive confrontations with racist whites. Sadly, in the 19th century and today, it is often effective for a black person caught up in a confrontation to claim that powerful white people will be upset if anything should happen to him. Major Warren both upholds and subverts this trope. There are also shoutouts to previous Tarantino films, most uncomfortably Pulp Fiction's most disgusting scene. The film smartly avoids gore throughout most of its run time but lathers it on a bit too broadly near the end. This was a long film, almost three hours, but I didn't think it dragged much. I was a little irritated that the film explained some things I didn't think needed explaining and left some things a mystery which I thought were worth spelling out. Goggins really works the swagger while Jackson does the angry black man. Because Daisy is chained throughout most of the film and often threatened or beaten by Ruth for speaking, Leigh's acting is often quite subtle. Given that's she playing a crafty, racist but also somewhat stupid woman, this is a nice piece of work. It's never pointed out exactly who Daisy killed. If one were of a conspiratorial and/or feminist bent one might suggest that Daisy is being symbolically punished for violating traditional mores of femininity.  You could argue that in this one regard Leigh's work here hearkens back to her otherwise dissimilar role as Tralala in the excellent film Last Exit to Brooklyn. Despite her name, Daisy's no lady. And this lack of pedestal protection might well explain her fierce racist reaction upon encountering Warren. Why the hell is she in chains while this black man walks free? 

Ultimately I found the explicit violence over the top, but it's a Tarantino film. Who could expect otherwise? This is an amoral film without too much depth. Stuff happens. People die. Not Tarantino's best or worst work, this is an extremely well made and entertaining film that revels in a Grand Guignol ending. Channing Tatum and Zoe Bell also have roles. If you do see this you should do so in the theater. You'd be cheating yourself by waiting for VOD/DVD.

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