The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino's weakest movie – and yes, that includes Death Proof. There's still plenty of good stuff here to make the film worth seeing, but it's also a case where the director indulges himself a little too much, allowing his worst impulses to occasionally take over. And that's okay in the long run, because a filmmaker who doesn't periodically stumble is a filmmaker who has grown stagnant. In the short run, on the other hand, it's a tiny bit disappointing.

Set shortly after the Civil War, the story begins with bounty hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) getting stranded in a winter storm while trying to return the bodies of three outlaws to Red Rock. He hitches a ride with another bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell), who has a fugitive of his own. She is Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The three get to know each other a little bit during the long carriage ride. Then they pick up another stranded soul, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. The storm worsens, and the group seeks shelter at a small haberdashery, where they plan to wait it out. Several other individuals are doing likewise: hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), former Confederate general Sandford Smithers (Bruce Dern), and a Mexican named Bob (Demian Bichir).

That's the first 100 minutes of The Hateful Eight right there. Everything is very talky, as the characters provide lengthy introductions and start to feel each other out. Thankfully, Tarantino has a knack for dialogue. In the hands of a lesser writer, this all might have been deadly dull. It's undeniably drawn out, but Tarantino excels in creating vivid characters, which is exactly what he's doing here. All the actors, many of whom are veterans of the director's earlier films, know how to accentuate his quirky character touches and hard-boiled dialogue.

The last hour shifts tone a bit. With all the intros firmly in place, The Hateful Eight turns into something of a mystery. Warren comes to believe that one of the others in the haberdashery is acting in cahoots with Daisy, planning to rescue her by killing everyone else. He attempts to suss out the guilty party, which leads to suspicion, which leads to anger, which leads to a bloodbath. Tarantino's movies often focus on people who are at odds, with tensions boiling over in hyper-violent ways. That definitely happens once again. Watching Warren try to figure out who he can and cannot trust is pure Tarantino bliss, as is the way the story continually plays with what you think you know about the characters.

At the same time that you're enjoying many of the filmmaker's distinct touches, it's hard to not recognize that something is slightly amiss. Much has been made of the fact that The Hateful Eight debuted in a “roadshow” version, complete with a 15-minute intermission. That's indicative of the problem. This is Tarantino indulging in his own Tarantino-ness. There's no logical reason for this movie to be nearly three hours long, except that he married himself to the idea of a big, grand, shot-on-70mm epic. Nothing about this story is particularly epic; in fact, it's actually quite intimate. Consequently, things often feel stretched out much longer than they need to be. Whereas Tarantino's best films make long running times feel short, The Hateful Eight is long and feels long. Some little touches are off, too. Even in the wide-release multiplex cut, you can tell where the intermission was. The director himself delivers a distracting narration informing the audience of what's happened in the gap. That narration is in no way necessary, and it ends up feeling narcissistic.

The Hateful Eight also has a bit of a mean streak. Daisy is repeatedly (endlessly) referred to by all the other characters as a “bitch” or a “crazy bitch,” and there's a running joke about her getting beaten, smacked, and otherwise abused by the male characters, particularly Ruth. It feels uncomfortably sadistic after a while. Similarly, Warren is frequently called “nigger,” a word Tarantino has always had a bizarre fascination with. Yes, it's appropriate to the story's time period, yet it's used as a flourish, not as a historical accuracy.

The violence in the last hour is nastier than normal, too, which is saying a lot considering the level typically found in Tarantino's work. The director is far more graphic than he needs to be in showing faces getting blown off or people meeting other grisly fates. “Hateful” is in the title for a reason; still, it often plays like Tarantino is getting off on what he can do, rather than on what's most effective for the story. Perhaps it wouldn't have seemed as extreme without all the racial and sexist speech. Together, it's overload.

While there are some real flaws in the picture, The Hateful Eight is nonetheless worthy for its terrific performances (especially from Jennifer Jason Leigh, who magnificently steals every scene), beautiful Robert Richardson cinematography, and uniquely transfixing Tarantino plotting. This is certainly not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. I suspect time will not be kind to it, though. For the first time, we see the director getting a bit blinded by the glory of his own style. Whereas, say, Inglorious Basterds is self-assured, The Hateful Eight teeters on being self-impressed. That's not a great look for Tarantino, even if his strengths as a filmmaker end up partially saving the day.

( out of four)

The Hateful Eight is rated R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity. The running time is 2 hours and 47 minutes.

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