At the movies: The Hateful Eight, an uncivil war
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Directed By Quentin Tarantino
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern
Rated R, Western, 167 minutes
Quentin Tarantino takes on racial and gender discrimination in his eighth film, entitled “The Hateful Eight.” Posing as a spaghetti Western, the film wants us to puzzle over its central mystery. On the one hand it’s an Agatha Christie story set in the wild west — on the other, we’re as likely to be bored by its rambling dialog as we are to be shocked by its graphic violence.
Set in Wyoming, shortly after the Civil War, Tarantino breaks the action into a half dozen chapters. He introduces both Yankees and confederates often known to one another by association or reputation, and based on that, infer the rest.
A pair of bounty hunters and an outlaw are at the heart of the action. Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), is a black, ex-Yankee soldier whose cargo includes the carcasses of three criminals “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” Warren carries a complimentary letter he says was written to him by President Lincoln. He wields it as a weapon against prejudice.
That letter comes into play after Warren boards the same stagecoach conveying acquaintance John Ruth (Kurt Russell). He is also a bounty hunter, but unlike Warren, Ruth brings his bounties in alive and stays on to see them hang. This earns Ruth’s nickname “The Hangman.” Ruth’s captive is Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman pleased to revolt others with her shocking behavior. Instructed by Ruth to hold her tongue, Daisy’s failure to comply has garnered her a black eye even before we meet her. The group is en route to Red Rock where Warren will exchange his dead men for $8,000 and Ruth’s reward for Daisy will be $10,000.
The trio is joined by Mannix (Walton Goggins), claiming he too is on his way to Red Rock where he will serve as its new sheriff. A swirl of mini-dramas unfold aboard the stage coach as the driver attempts to outrun a ferocious blizzard. Near whiteout conditions force the party to take refuge at a remote outpost, a saloon and eatery known as Minnie’s Haberdashery.
The bounty hunters are discomforted when the coach arrives at Minnie’s and they find another group of coach passengers already in residence. A Mexican named Bob (Demian Bichir) is running the place, claiming Minnie left days ago to visit her mother. Looking mildly perturbed, an old Confederate general (Bruce Dern) occupies one of the establishment’s easy chairs. A chattering, overly fancy Brit introduces himself as Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a hangman conveniently also bound for Red Rock. Sitting alone at a corner table and scribbling on scraps of paper, a quiet, yet menacing cowboy (Michael Madsen) claims to be writing his life’s story.
Major Marquis Warren is dubious about these random strangers, and being a Tarantino film, you can rest assured much blood will be spilled in getting to the truth of things.
One of Tarantino’s hallmarks is casting all but forgotten actors in key roles. We rediscover what first drew us to them even as Tarantino reinvents them. Here, his find is Jennifer Jason Leigh. Never quite making the A-list, Leigh’s screen presence reverberates with her internal energy. She pulls us to Daisy, leaving a bait trail of smirks, vulgarity, and a hint of vulnerability. Her utter lack of vanity beguiles.
The film is shot using antique lenses that lend a warmth to the otherwise calculated coldness of this story. The fortunate will see it at a theater projecting the work in widescreen 70-millimeter Panavision. It’s a format suited to the frequent facial closeups of Leigh, and of Jackson who infuses this drama with attitude.
We learn about the characters via Saturday matinee dialog that could have used more payoffs. At nearly three hours, the movie suffers from overlong gags that fail to hit their sweet spot the first time and fare no better on the second, third and fourth attempts. Too many situations are drawn out to the point of tedium. One long passage seen in flashback, reveals previously unseen events that lead up to the film’s climax. This unnecessary backstory is counterproductive.
Tarantino’s goal is to both illuminate and redress historical discrimination, but because he scripts Jackson’s character with pounding arrogance, our sympathies become blunted.
Carnage and an abundance of revolting moments, go beyond what’s meaningful to what’s simply perverse. An argument can be made that great art pushes our preconceptions, but is sickening the audience going too far? Our other option is to laugh. How I wanted to, but Tarantino loses his grip on humor in a blizzard of gore.
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