Wednesday, January 13, 2016

"The Hateful Eight" Review: Deception And An All Star Cast Fuel Quentin Tarantino's Latest Bloody Spectacle


Quentin Tarantino is the king of modern pulp and exploitation in the cinema. Nobody makes films like his which always makes a trip into the theater to experience his latest opus one of the only times you can walk in sight unseen and be guaranteed at the very least a good but more often than not a great film. His style isn't for everyone though as most general audiences are easily turned off by the excessive gore and language that pervades all of his films. The Hateful Eight is no different in that regard as anyone who braves their local cineplex will bear witness to something that is wholly Quentin Tarantino through and through but as a bonus they will see for the very first time a style of film that the infamous filmmaker has never tackled before. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D 70 MM Film            
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime:  3 hr 7 min
Studio: Weinstein Company
Release Date: December 25, 2015

Biases:  
Loves: Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1
Likes: Resovoir Dogs, Grindhouse, Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained and Kill Bill Vol. 2
Neutral: Jackie Brown
Hates: That Quentin Tarantino plans on making only 2 more films
Is it worth seeing in 70mm?: You bet, but too bad it isn't playing in that format any longer.


It is the late 1800's just after the Civil War where we find eight strangers all held up at a remote haberdashery during a raging blizzard. One of the strangers is a bounty hunter by the name John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) who has handcuffed to his person one Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a bounty worth over ten thousand dollars. Worried that one or more of the other seven strangers might be after his bounty to either take it for themselves or set Daisy free he recruits the services of fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) who is also unfortunate enough to be stranded with him. With a few days before the storm lets up both men must be on constant guard while one stranger after another begins to reveal their true intentions.

For this review I am going to do something a little different. Instead of throwing heaps of praise at Tarantino for making yet another unrelenting, expertly directed and written film going experience unlike any other, I am going to look at the film in a way that most have seemed to have either glossed over or otherwise not notice. You see, Tarantino has made his pulp film (Pulp Fiction), his crime heist film (Resovoir Dogs), his exploitation film (Grindhouse), his war film (Inglorious Basterds), his kung fu action film (Kill Bill) and his western film (Django Unchained). I know what you're thinking, isn't The Hateful Eight just another western like Django? No, no it isn't. As a matter of fact The Hateful Eight is about as far removed a film can be from a western while simultaneously sharing all the familiar aesthetics associated with the genre.


With The Hateful Eight Tarantino has made his very first horror film (From Dusk Till Dawn was more of a collaborative effort with that film's director Robert Rodriguez compared to the singular vision displayed here). This isn't a traditional horror film though because he never makes anything traditional even when working within the confines of a specific genre. Watching the film it is easy to miss this fact as all the richly drawn characters interact with one another in that classic Tarantino way. Subtly revealing who they are by regaling us with any number of colorful tall tales about their exploits as they are all moved into place like chess pieces by their puppet master behind the camera. By the time we realize what our diabolical director has in store for us it is too late to back out as no matter how much blood is shed and no matter how many heads explode or limbs are blown away, we have become too invested in these character's to do anything but sit back and see how their individual fates play out.

From a plot standpoint this is probably the most basic film Quentin Tarantino has ever made. By no means is that statement meant to imply the film is simple which it most certainly is not, this film will test your wits and intellect like few others have this year. No, it is basic based on the simplicity of its concept, a group of strangers trapped together with one, two or maybe even more lying about who they are and what their intentions are. It is a very common story telling device used in the horror genre of which there are many examples but there is one film that stands out more than any other as being the clear inspiration for this particular tale.  Anyone familiar with John Carpenter's 1982 horror classic The Thing will immediately be able to draw numerous comparisons to that film as it is near impossible to not see their glaring similarities.


Let's look at the setting first which has The Hateful Eight taking place in an isolated location where all the characters are forced together by a raging blizzard. The Thing takes place in Antarctica where we find all our characters forced together in a single isolated location by a raging blizzard. Next is the paranoia aspect where all the characters in The Hateful Eight are not who they say they are leading to a number of confrontations as their real identities are forced out of them. The Thing is about a creature who can look like anyone which instills distrust amongst everyone resulting in numerous confrontations in an attempt to reveal who is the creature and who isn't.

Those are just the basic similarities though as Tarantino has laid out an extensive list of homages and even outright lifts some of the scenes directly from The Thing. Take for instance the casting of Kurt Russell as John Ruth. Is it a coincidence that Kurt Russell was also the star of The Thing? How about the fact that not only did Tarantino commission a brand new film score from master film composer Ennio Morricone who also happened to do the score for The Thing but he also lifted an unused piece of music Morricone made for The Thing and put it in The Hateful Eight. Not enough evidence for you? OK then, how about those aforementioned lifted scenes?


At one point in The Hateful Eight we find three of our characters forced at gunpoint to stand turned against a wall as two other characters try to figure out which one or more of them is really who they say they are? That is a direct link to The Thing where we have the scene with three characters tied down to a couch at gunpoint by two characters who are trying to figure out which one or more of them is really who they say they are? One of the biggest connections though comes at the very end of The Hateful Eight which contains some minor spoilers though so I will give you a second to skip to the next paragraph if you feel the need. [SPOILER ALERT] At the end of The Thing we have two characters, a white and a black man, sitting next to each other waiting to die before the screen goes black and the film ends. Similarly in The Hateful Eight we have two characters, a white and a black man, sitting next to each other waiting to die before the screen goes black and the film ends. Case closed.

Whether or not The Hateful Eight was purposely made to be linked to The Thing or not isn't really the point though. What matters most is if the film lives up to the same quality we have come to expect from Quentin Tarantino which the answer to that is a resounding yes. They say the devil is in the details and no other director in Hollywood is as detail oriented as Tarantino. From the way a character goes through the mundane motions to put on a pair of glasses before reading a letter to the way a scene builds in tension simply by having someone try to play the piano in the background of a verbal conflict, Tarantino once again proves that his skill behind the camera is only superseded by his colorful (if not a bit offensive at times) dialogue and the actors he entrusts to speak his carefully nuanced script.


He has also once again gathered a great cast full of a number of his usual suspects such as Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Samuel L. Jackson who by this time are well accustomed to Tarantino's style of dialog. They are joined by some inspired newcomers to the flock such as Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins, James Parks and Demian Bichir who all rise to the challenge and tackle their roles like Tarantino veterans. Everyone is exceptional as expected and add layers to their characters that likely wasn't on paper but special mention needs to go out to Jennifer Jason Leigh. Although she isn't given a whole lot to do at first, as the film progresses we see her begin to reveal her true self like layers being peeled from an onion and by the conclusion she not only defies expectations but in many ways outshines every single one of her male costars which given the company isn't an easy task.

Although I have talked already about the setting for the film it needs to be reiterated just how gorgeous The Hateful Eight is from a simple production standpoint. Tarantino clearly went to great lengths to film as much as he could on location for the few scenes that take place outside Minnie's Haberdashery, the sole location for most of the 3 hour film, and that effort has paid off in spades. Not only do those expansive outdoor locations provide a stark contrast to the claustrophobic nature of the haberdashery, it also helps sell the fact that these people are truly cut off from the rest of the world until that blizzard passes them by. Also worth noting are the costumes which become an extenstion of each charater and gives us a visual representation of each of the eight in ways that leads us to form our opinions of each that may or may not prove to be true.


While the film is chock full of personality thanks to the colorful cast of characters the haberdashery they find themselves is just as much a character itself. Like the costumes of all our cast members it to tells a story that only becomes evident the further we go along. Tarantino is a master at setting up his audience to expect the unexpected and then pull the rug out from under them just when they think they have a handle on the situation but The Hateful Eight might just be the director's crowning achievement in that particular area. While it at first looks to be their savior as it protects them from the deadly cold outside it soon proves to be more of a prison than a sanctuary

Tarantino also forces his audience from laid back observer into an active participant in this story and by doing so he gets us invested in this story unlike your normal movie going affair. This isn't the first film to take this approach but rarely is it done this well. The only drawback to any of this however is the sad fact that not everyone is a fan of Tarantino's work. Be it his style of filmmaking which often includes a lot of time shifting and unconventional thematic elements such as his need to break the story up into chapters or his controversial use of a particular derogatory term, his films have a tendency to turn off a lot of potential fans. While it is a shame so many will miss out on such an entertaining film it is a sacrifice well worth making since those of us who are fans never feel short changed.


As they say that is the nature of the beast however which translates into if you are a fan of his previous work then you will likely fall under his spell once again for The Hateful Eight. If you have never connected to his directorial inclinations then this film will do little to change your mind about the man. The Hateful Eight is a bloody spectacle of the highest order but it doesn't rely on the shock value of the carnage on display. There is a well written and well acted film here with an undeniable charm supporting all the excessive language and gore that elevates the film from your typical exploitative experience into something wholly unique. It may not win many awards but chances are 10 years down the road you will remember this film more than any other you saw this year.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Whether or not The Hateful Eight is a remake of The Thing is something for film scholars to decipher at a later date. It at the very least is a kindred spirit of that 1982 horror classic and as such stands as a unique addition to Quentin Tarantino's filmography. Some may argue that the film isn't even remotely close to the horror genre which is fine since it also shares many commonalities with other genres, but none of that changes the fact that The Hateful Eight is an entertaining and engaging piece of cinema that is destined to only get better upon repeat viewings. This one is a keeper.

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