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Film Review | The Hateful Eight

Packed with the usual array of violence and cusswords, Tarantino's latest collapses under the director's increasingly insufferable indulgences

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
19 January 2016, 9:28am
Going my way? Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson return to Tarantinoland with this long-awaited – and brutal – Western
Going my way? Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson return to Tarantinoland with this long-awaited – and brutal – Western
Quentin Tarantino’s star is waning. Sure, the former poster-boy of 90s indie cinema is an assured cash-cow, whose hyperviolent post-modern collages continue to expand to bloating as the auteur writer-director accrues bigger and bigger budgets while sitting comfortably on his (apparently) unassailable throne as one of the most untouchable directors working today.

On one level this is entirely understandable – his collages of pop culture markers are aesthetically engaging and generally entertaining, and his track record has been pretty much impeccable since he first appeared on the scene with Reservoir Dogs in 1992.

But this may just be the root of the problem. Now given total carte blanche, the eight-film-strong purveyor of zanily edited yak-and-gore is showing signs of megalomania. And The Hateful Eight, in fact his eighth film in total and the third in his more recent string of historical three-hour revisionist epics – completed by Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained (2013) – could very well be his ‘Emperor Has No Clothes’ moment.

While racing toward the town of Red Rock in post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) encounter another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a man who claims to be a sheriff of the troupe’s final destination. Hoping to find shelter from a blizzard, the group travels to a stagecoach stopover – Minnie’s Haberdashery – located on a mountain pass.

Once there, they are met with four other travellers: the foppish Brit Oswlado Mobray (Tim Roth), taciturn Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), veteran Confederate Army General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) and ‘The Mexican’ Bob (Demián Bichir).

 

As professional and racial tensions simmer beneath the surface – with Domergue’s ultimate fate a lucrative carrot over the assembled rogues noses – ostensibly the gathered band are just there to shoot the fat as the blizzard rages around them. But all that may change before the night is through, as certain secret motives come crawling through the haberdashery’s hardwood floor.

The most frustrating thing about The Hateful Eight is that you just know there’s a great film in there dying to shoot itself out of the bloated, self-indulgent yak that is rapidly becoming Tarantino stock-in-trade.

Excising the first 90 minutes wholesale may leave the film better for the amputation: the good stuff starts once Tarantino realises that his latest pet project is at its best when it’s trying to a heavily blood-infused Agatha Christie call-back.

And it’s not like there’s a shortage of great sequences. Or that the actors aren’t magnetic across the board. As ever, Tarantino is well-served by his cast, both the old-timers like Kurt Russell and, of course, Samuel L. Jackson and newcomers like Jennifer Jason Leigh – at turns a quiet, sneaky trickster and violent harpy, she reminds us just how trapped by glamour most female roles – not to say actresses themselves – are in Hollywood these days.

Leigh’s raw, unapologetic portrayal is a reminder of Tarantino’s anarchic power at its best. It’s just a shame that, like the rest of the film’s submerged gems, she has to struggle to shine in an overlong chamber piece whose director appears to have lost all sense of narrative tempo.

The characters may be despicable across the board, but their actors continuously rise to the challenge of keeping us glued to the screen. Another stand-out is Walton Goggins – the only character to enjoy the hint of psychological growth as circumstance leads him to bond with an unlikely ally.

There’s talk of adapting The Hateful Eight into a stage play. This wouldn’t be a bad idea. The constricted setting, coupled with some very stagey devices (concealed guns, anyone?) all point in that direction anyway.

In fact, the film is something of a chamber piece… which makes Tarantino’s fuss about shooting and distributing it in 70mm to select theatres all the more baffling.

It’s also yet another example of how artistic megalomania can skew one’s perspective. At this point, Tarantino fans waiting for a new film from the cult filmmaker are in the same position as feudal peasants in the Middle Ages. Will the ‘ninth film by Quentin Tarantino be any good?’ – ‘Will the next ruling monarch be kindly, or a psychopath?’

Because make no mistake, just like you couldn’t question the divine right of kings back in the day, so it seems that Tarantino will accept no curtailing or editing of his ever-bloating, ever-spiralling ‘vision’. 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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