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The Hateful Eight Poster (The Weinstein Company)Title: The Hateful Eight

Production: The Weinstein Company

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writers: Quentin Tarantino

Released: 2015

Rated: R (for extreme violence and language)

Genre: Western

Runtime: 187 Minutes

Cast: Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen

I’ve always believed Quentin Tarantino movies are an acquired taste and it seems most film goers fall into one of two categories: you either love the director or you don’t. I certainly know I’ve never run across anyone who’s said to me, “Tarantino? Yeah. I guess he’s alright.” No. It’s a love/hate as far as Tarantino goes with audiences. For the most part if you hate the director you just hate him and if you’ve enjoyed one Tarantino film you’re apt to be entertained by the rest of his output. Possibly, that is, until now…

The Hateful Eight bowed on this Christmas day and, for those expecting another Tarantino spin on the classic spaghetti western genre, it’s important to note that this is not the sort of flick you’ll think you’ll be settling in to watch. I don’t have a problem with this, as I usually find it somewhat clever to present one sort of genre draped in the trappings of another, but viewers might be surprised to find this dog draws much more of its pedigree from Agatha Christie than it does Sergio Leone. Rather than a tale drenched in the sweat and grime of the western frontier during the Reconstruction period you’ll find yourself taking in a story which would feel much more at home in a Victorian age sitting room. Granted it soon becomes a blood soaked sitting room but a sitting room none the less.

As with all my reviews I’ll keep this as spoiler free as possible.

The film opens as bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is transporting his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to Red Rock Wyoming for trial and an eventual hanging. Along the way the stagecoach is beset upon by two stranded travelers, another bounty hunter named Maj. Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Red Rock’s newly appointed incoming sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), as well as a massive blizzard. In order to wait out the storm, the passengers – as well as stage driver O.B. (James Parks), set off for Minnie’s Haberdashery.

Minnie’s is a remote stage waypoint and outpost on the road to Red Rock. Here the travelers are joined by un-Reconstructed Confederate General Smithers (Bruce Dern), the British hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cowpoke Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and tight lipped Bob the Mexican (Demian Bichir). Strangely enough the owner Minnie and her husband Sweet Dave are nowhere to be seen. If you’ve been keeping count you know we now have nine players on the scene and the film’s title is The Hateful Eight. I suppose since O.B. seems like an okay sort he doesn’t enter into Tarantino’s math.

At this point mysteries begin to unfold as Ruth and Warren believe someone (or someones) at the outpost aren’t who they claim to be and, secondly, just what’s really befallen Minnie and Sweet Dave?

The Hateful Eight Jackson in the Snow (The Weinstein Company)The Hateful Eight begins interestingly enough as we’re introduced to a handful of characters already on the stage as well as those who are about to try to hitch a ride. Thirty minutes into the film we’re still staring at the same characters riding the stage as your mind begins to wander back to the trailers for the film; “I swear I thought this movie took place in a cabin or something,” you may think. Yes, it pretty much does but you’re going to have to wait a bit until it gets there. Yeah, about an hour before it gets there.

It’s at around the seventy-five minute mark where the wheels begin to fall off the wagon and you start to wonder where all of this is going. Yes, the stage has reached the outpost, yes the other characters have begun to be introduced, and no you’ll still have no idea where this is all going. Let’s be honest here. Tarantino tends to be a master at crafting extended individual scenes, or dare I say short vignettes, firmly woven with dialogue while normally having a good deal of trouble tying everything together into a cohesive whole. This is less of a problem with The Hateful Eight as the narrative does stand up but, in this case, the individual scenes are much weaker than we’ve seen in earlier Tarantino films. There’s just a lot of yapping between people we don’t like from the get go and it prattles on from there; the more they yap the less we like them.

A big problem is in the characterizations. Unlike other Tarantino films, there isn’t a group or even single individual who the audience can identify with or possibly root for. You see, the main characters really are hateful and the director makes no bones about it. Tarantino populates the movie with scene after scene where it’s driven home this or that particular son of a bitch (or bitch) needs a killin’. By the time the audience has reached the intermission the film has already overstayed it’s welcome. Two hours in I was hoping for a stray meteor to strike Minnie’s Haberdashery and wipe out everyone there so I could get on with my life and write about why I dislike this film so much. Sorry to say that doesn’t take place. I can only liken this to being subjected to some strange visual toothache, one which constantly grows in intensity, so by the time the movie reaches a climax I was praying for it all to end as I could be extracted from the ongoing misery.

The Hateful Eight Leigh (The Weinstein Company)Another major issue I have with The Hateful Eight is the wantonly casual violence toward Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character. Every few minutes someone’s punching her in the face, or kicking her in the stomach, or threatening her with some horrific fate. Yes, I get the fact Daisy Domergue is just as despicable as the men (maybe even more so) but it’s still a bit tough to swallow. For anyone who’s going to say “Well, that’s how women were treated on the frontier,” I’m going to have to point out their misconception; even the lowliest “soiled dove” of the most ramshackle western watering hole would never have faced the kind of onslaught of abuse as the Domergue character endures. The first time Daisy gets clobbered I thought, holy shit. The second? I actually said aloud, “Holy shit.” The third and subsequent times I started to think, “What the fuck?” as in “What the fuck was the guy making this movie thinking?”

I’m certainly no shrinking violet when it comes to film violence. And I’m surely no SJW when it comes to film but I have to draw the line as to when a director heaps a constant stream of abuse on a character of any gender, even when it hits a nearly ridiculous Road Runner cartoon level.

What a shame because Leigh provides a fantastic performance, as does Walton Goggins. In fact most of the acting in The Hateful Eight is top notch, if sometimes a bit over the top, as the actors really chew the scenery with aplomb. Too bad it’s all wasted in what turns out to be a nasty and mean spirited little film.

Which is the biggest problem I have with The Hateful Eight. The film boils down to absolutely nothing. There’s no message here and, if there is, it’s certainly nothing I want to buy into. Humanity sucks? Geez, thanks for the update Sherlock. I’m so glad some studio gave you $200 million to clue us in. Even as each of the characters receive their just deserts the audience reaction is more “Well. Yeah… That happened,” as opposed to “Take THAT you evil bastard!” By the time the end credits roll the viewer has been subjected to such a nonstop flurry of sheer awfulness and violence one feels an honest to God sense of relief that it’s finally time to leave the theater. Time to leave, down a couple of shots of solid liquor, and take a nice hot shower to clean off the filth.

The Hateful Eight is a great looking film and there’s been a lot of attention paid to period detail throughout. I honestly don’t know what the hubbub was all about as far as breaking out vintage lenses and shooting in 70mm though since a good four fifths of the film takes place indoors; the film would be as at home on an iPad screen as it would in a old school movie palace. Regardless, I have no beef with the look of the film.

The Hateful Eight Jackson, Leigh, and Russell (The Weinstein Company)What does bother me is Tarantino’s attitude as a director here. You don’t like the level of casual violence in most of his films? Well up yours. Don’t like the way women are portrayed in his films? Up yours again. I’d almost go as far as saying the director is tossing out a big fuck off to the big road shows of the past by trying to play off his latest as if it should be mentioned in the same breath as Lawrence of Arabia or Gone With the Wild – true classics worthy of a road show treatment.

The Hateful Eight plays out as a big “Fuck you!” to Tarantino critics and unfortunately the movie going audience is caught in the midst of what turns out to be as near enough a snuff flick fantasy as I’ve ever witnessed. Rather than create a film which tries to tell us something, regardless if it’s about history, or human nature, or man’s darkest desires, or even what time the goddamn clock on the wall tells us Tarantino wastes three hours of our lives essentially saying we can go fuck ourselves. Honestly, it’s as if The Hateful Eight is a great big fuck you joke on the movie going public. Tarantino seems to be far less concerned with you walking out of the theater thinking you just witnessed something amazing and more focused on your response being “I can’t believe he went there…” or “Did I just see what I did?” We don’t need a mostly respected film auteur to do that.

Any asshole with a cell phone can do that…

Normally in ten minutes…

On YouTube…

For free…

I was truly looking forward to this movie as were a hell of a lot of other folks. Sorry to say the eighth entry onto Tarantino’s resume doesn’t even come remotely close to being as entertaining as his first go round, Reservoir Dogs, which the film actually resembles quite a lot. In the end, as dazzling as the film sometimes looks and as good as some of the performances may be in it everything about The Hateful Eight adds up to a whole lot of ado over nothing. Possibly, even less than that.

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