Friday, January 1

REVIEW: The Hateful Eight

Directed by Quentin Tarantino
2015 Western
3 hours, 7 minutes
From The Weinstein Company

Samuel L. Jackson
Kurt Russell
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Walton Goggins
Damien Bechir
Tim Roth
Michael Madsen
Bruce Dern
James Parks
Dana Gourrier
Zoe Bell
Channing Tatum

I've seen it called a comedy, a drama and a mystery.  Comedy in just a minor way.  Drama is for sure.  Mystery, yes, and surprisingly and happily so.  But who is calling it a western?  Hey, I am.  It's a western.  There are horses and stagecoaches and very bad, scruffy, dirty people.  And they like to kill.  It's a western and I should know because we realize I like my shoot-'em-ups.

Westerns are meant to be helmed by Quentin Tarantino.  I want him to be the new John Ford or Sergio Leone, 2016 style.  The perfect director for the genre.  He does westerns better than he does war films.  For the audience he has a penchant for rubbing your face with bad.  He wants it to get all over you.  No nun would climb a hill and burst into song in his films, unless, of course, she had a machine gun under her habit.  He loves bloodshed and if you don't, his films may not be for you.  I'm not crazy about it myself but have learned to put it aside for a stab (omg, see what he's done to me?) at some QT.    I love his audaciousness... I know he's going to do something outside the mainstream, something bizarre, threatening,   One never knows what it's going to be but he always surprises me.  I love filmmakers who surprise.

The Hateful Eight opens with a stagecoach being pulled by one white and five brown horses.  The unusual use of 70 mm cameras provides a panoramic view of a snowy mountain area.  The driver is trying to move his team quickly to a stagecoach stop to wait out an impending blizzard.  You would be right to conclude that the area is a foreboding one and you are just starting to be set up.

The coach stops for a man (Jackson) who is sitting on the road on his saddle which is on top of three dead bodies.  He says that he is a bounty hunter (he knows he has a choice of bringing 'em in dead or alive... it's just that he prefers dead).  He asks for a space for himself inside and the bodies on top.  He is told he needs to ask the man inside for permission because he has paid for the sole use of the coach.  He (Russell) has a female prisoner (Leigh) and is escorting her to Red Rock for a hanging.  He's looking forward to watching it and to collecting $10,000.  The other man seems disappointed that he's only getting $8,000 for three bodies.

After heavy interrogation, the man is allowed aboard and they have not gotten all that far when they come across another man without a horse, freezing, and requesting a ride.  He (Goggins) says that he is on his way to Red Rock to become the new sheriff.  No one believes him but he climbs in.  The woman, who appears to be a lowlife in every respect, is handcuffed to her captor and pummeled when she dares to speak.  Everyone eyes everyone warily but soon they are at the stagecoach stop.

It's called Minnie's Haberdashery but where's Minnie or her right-hand man, Sweet Dave?  One of them would always be there.  The stagecoach driver says he does not know the Mexican man (Bechir)who greets them.  Still cautious, they enter the dwelling and find a suspicious Englishman (Roth), a hulking presence (Madsen) who stays quiet over in a corner and an old man (Dern) who appears to be brooding in a comfortable chair and is addressed as General.  Who are these people?  Why does everyone act so mysterious?  Is it true that one of them is in cahoots with the woman?  How will it all play out in the face of a blizzard?

So many questions, so few answers.  How can I tell you?  You know I can't.  But I will say that the answers kept me totally fascinated for an astonishing 187 minutes.  It would be misleading to not open up the notion that this film does have its slow moments.  The stagecoach scene was a tad longer than it needed to be and shots of the horses' galloping hooves and their flaring nostrils may have seemed artistic at the time of filming, but it helped over stuff the length.  I must also confess I found the first hour a little slow although afterwards I see that we were establishing who these characters are (thank you, QT, thank you) and creating a calm before the storm. 

There are two things that made this film a bright spot on my moviegoing radar these days.  One is the tension created in that one room (where the remainder of the film mainly plays out) and it builds and builds.  I am sure I was wide-eyed waiting for one of them to pop.  And of course I do know that QT loves his violence, both garden variety and gratuitous.

The second thing I liked so much is that after it appeared the main action was coming to an end, QT provides not only a back story as to who everyone is, but it is even more exciting than that which we had been watching.  I found how this was done to be wonderfully creative, unusual and appealing.

This is a good western, a damned good one.  For some it will certainly be too slow.  For others too violent and of course cowboys do talk so naughty, don't they?  And for some others, especially those liking their westerns full of major action, this may be a tad too talky.  

What makes it an unusual western is the mystery aspect.  My heart danced like a tequila worm.  I love wondering whodunit, watching it all unfold... one body at a time.    

The entire cast is splendid.  It was nice to see Jackson in such a large role, especially after I felt cheated with his superb too-small one in QT's Django Unchained.  It was nice to see Russell... period.  Where has he been?  I can understand the awards talk about Leigh.  Perhaps I mostly enjoyed the little-known Goggins.  I hope his turn here gets him more attention. 

The credits tells us this is QT's eight film.  I also read that he sees an end to his movie directing career.   I'm hoping this is just hyperbole.  Every once in a while I need a QT fix.

Next posting:
A good 40s films

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