Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Film Review: The Hateful Eight (2016)

Some time after the end of the Civil War, John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his stagecoach driver O.B. are travelling to the town of Red Rock, Wyoming with Ruth’s latest bounty: the notorious fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). A couple of fortuitous happenstances and a roaring blizzard quickly ensure that the ride becomes a lot cosier due to fellow bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), and supposed new Red Rock sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) hitching a ride.

The fierce weather prohibits them for reaching their destination overnight, so they decide to stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery for respite and warm stew.  Yet already in residence at the small lodge are the enigmatic cowboy Joe Cage (Michael Madsen), elderly Confederate general Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) and the new Red Rock hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth).

What follows is an inevitably Tarantinoesque pressure cooker of narcissists, paranoiacs and sociopaths having to spend time in a room together slowly discovering the motivations and machinations that will build to a bloody climax… 

Unlike the expeditions of both of the Kill Bill’s, Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight remains resolutely static within the confines of a stagecoach and Minnie’s cabin, with only a brief excursion outside to the stable (and an curious, unreliable flashback about naked soldiers…).  This means that the drama unfolds like a stage play with a number of set pieces separated with characteristic chapter titles, albeit with POV changes and audacious time shifts along the way.

The restrictive locations also force the characters to adhere to a string of distinct linear clashes and monologues, which inevitably lead to Tarantino’s trademark flair for long flourishes of meandering dialogue.  Which will either be music to the ears of the enthusiasts, or seem simply dreary to the detractors.  Being a 19th century period piece denies Tarantino the indulgence of waxing lyrical about pop culture references (a la Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown), yet in their place are long winding riffs on the Civil War and letters from Abraham Lincoln.  Needless to say, this is a film about talking.

Yet the 187 minute ‘roadshow version’ (exhibited in luscious 70mm), is far more gripping than other films of similar length – The Green Mile, The Deer Hunter, The Dark Knight Rises et al – and by the final chapter I could have easily lasted another hour.

Due to distribution problems and lackadaisical scheduling, The Hateful Eight was released in the same week in the UK as Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant – a similar (yet very different) tale of early Americans battling extreme weather in the Midwest.  Yet where The Revenant is about the hatred amongst different tribes tearing each other apart, The Hateful Eight brings a collection of similar villains together in order to wreak his havoc.  You may not like any of the characters on display, but you sure do want to spend time with them…

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