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The Hateful Eight

By Will Krischke

“The Hateful Eight” is a long movie with a creeping first act, intermission, and intense, violent second act that uses an old-fashioned filmmaking style in a way that doesn’t make much sense. It might also be a political statement, though I’m not sure I’m drinking that Kool-Aid. It’s a fascinating, problematic film, one worth watching, and watching again, and even then, I’m not sure I actually like it.

Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell play bounty hunters who just happen to find themselves in the same place at the same time.    Russell has tracked down a particularly valuable fugitive in Jennifer Jason Leigh, but a snowstorm is rapidly approaching, so the trio must take refuge in a trading post that looks to be the only hospitable roof for a hundred miles.

Russell is expecting to be bushwhacked, so when the regular owner of the “haberdashery” is nowhere to be found, his hackles are immediately up.  The owner’s replacement, a burly Mexican named Bob, insists that everything is as it should be, and the three other residents all insist that they’re up not up to any kind of mischief.  Which means, of course, that they are.

This sets up a weird sort of chamber drama, not unlike the mostly forgotten genre of “old dark house” whodunit flicks of the ’30s and ’40s. It’s just like Tarantino to revive a forgotten genre, and combine it with other, more familiar elements.  This time it really feels like he’s trying to wed uber-violent Westerns, a la Sam Peckinpah, with gross-out horror flicks, a la Evil Dead. It’s an uneasy marriage, as the grittiness gets washed away by the gallons and gallons of blood vomit. I am used to a lot of violence in Tarantino films, and even an element of gore and comedy involved, but this is on beyond that.

Everyone in this small cast delivers solid performances, but Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins stand out.  Russell and Jackson are doing good, but pretty standard work; what we get from them is what we’re used to get from them. Leigh was one of my favorite actresses in the ’90s, then seemed to disappear for the last 15 years.  IMDB says she had steady work, but almost none of the performances were memorable, and some were no more than set dressing.  It’s a big year for her, between this and “Anomalisa,” both of which are garnering her awards attention.  I’m glad she’s back.

I wouldn’t consider “The Hateful Eight” in the top tier of Tarantino’s films.  The second tier, maybe.  There’s too much self-conscious stylizing going on, for one thing. Quentin Tarantino is a good storyteller, but I wish he didn’t feel the need to constantly remind us that it is he, Quentin Tarantino, that is telling the story. It’s almost as bad as certain filmmakers’ need to put their names right in the title of the movie. Also, I see the political points being made, but they feel more belabored here than in Tarantino’s best work. The best storytellers (like the best practitioners of most anything,) make it look effortless.  Tarantino seems to want us to see him sweating.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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