(US - 2015)
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Channing Tatum, James Parks, Zoe Bell, Lee Horsley, Gene Jones, Dana Gourrier, Keith Jefferson, Craig Stark, Belinda Owino. (R, 168 mins)
Quentin Tarantino's second consecutive western (after 2012's spaghetti tribute DJANGO UNCHAINED) is a three-hour epic that's equal parts classic western, Agatha Christie mystery, Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, bitterly misanthropic screed, and a horrific, splatter-filled gorefest. It has everything you'd want in a Tarantino film--quotable dialogue, vividly-detailed characters, a spirited love of all cinematic genres, and some truly inspired creative violence. But it's also Tarantino at his most self-indulgent. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a very good movie that could've been a great one if there was less of it. For the first time since the 107-minute European cut of DEATH PROOF, the shorter version of which was his contribution to GRINDHOUSE, a Tarantino film has moments of rambling, florid overwriting. Tarantino characters have a lot to say, but in THE HATEFUL EIGHT, they simply talk too much. And then they talk some more. It's the stagiest Tarantino film--even more so than his 1992 debut RESERVOIR DOGS, which had a lot more cutaways and flashbacks and was an hour shorter--but that's by design. For about 90 minutes, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is top-tier Tarantino, with a deliberate buildup that brings a group of wildly disparate characters together during a blizzard and the audience can just lean back and watch a great filmmaker get great performances out of his cast, letting the story gradually build into a stomach-knotting powderkeg of suspense and tension. But then Tarantino loses focus, a couple of major characters are Janet Leigh'd out of the film far earlier than you'd expect, and then it becomes a bit of an unwieldy mess, complete with the requisite Tarantino flashbacking, fractured timelines that bring both plot threads together. To call Tarantino self-indulgent is like calling water wet, but as a director, he's growing too enamored of the words of his favorite writer--Quentin Tarantino--to remain objective. DJANGO UNCHAINED ran a little long, but THE HATEFUL EIGHT starts to feel oppressive after a while, its story not nearly substantive enough to justify its bloated run time. It may sound like I didn't care for it, but I liked it quite a bit. I just would've preferred less of it.
"Regan's Theme" from EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, the film also contains some original Morricone music written specifically for it. Tarantino's grandiose vision for THE HATEFUL EIGHT borders on hubris at times--who else would stage an overlong drawing-room mystery taking place mostly on one set while shooting in Ultra Panavision 70, a 65mm format that hasn't been used since 1966 (in keeping with that, a roadshow edition running 175 minutes (plus an intermission and an overture with some new Morricone music, debuted on 100 screens a week earlier than this general release version)? The snowy exteriors look incredible on a big screen, and Tarantino's the kind of gifted filmmaker who can make such lofty ambitions work in such a claustrophobic setting, also tossing in a few unmistakably De Palma split diopter shots to make the really hardcore movie nerds trickle a little with giddy excitement (guilty as charged).
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, though his better--and more restrained--2015 western performance can be seen in BONE TOMAHAWK. Jackson does his furious indignation schtick that no one does better, and no one drops an enraged "motherfucker" quite like him (and he gets to spit out his most vile Tarantino monologue yet with a story he tells Dern's Smithers about crossing paths with his son), and Leigh is positively feral at times, especially once she's missing some teeth and covered in blood and brain matter, looking like a possession victim in a '70s EXORCIST ripoff by the end. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a film that's unmistakably the work of its mad scientist auteur creator, showcasing both his strengths and weaknesses, and operating at an estimated rate of 75% riveting to 25% tedious. Tarantino is one of the very few major directors whose new films constitute a legitimate event, but he could really stand to start taking a "less is more" approach.