Thursday, December 24, 2015

FILM REVIEW: The Hateful Eight

Its hard to believe this is only the eighth film by Quentin Tarantino. Very few directors leave quite the impression on critics and audiences alike with such few films. So when Quentin announces he's doing a film, people notice.

The director has a unique visual and storytelling flair that is accentuated by his soundtrack mixes. One of Quentin's most influential inspirations is Sergio Leone, the master of the spaghetti western. When Quentin announced his next project - The Hateful Eight - would include not only an all-star cast including Tarantino cast members staples (Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth), but also that it would be a western in the spirit of the classic westerns of the Silver Age of Hollywood, I pumped my fists in the air in excitement! I am a big western film buff, and I'm a Tarantino fan though not a devote one. Still, all these ingredients sounded like a recipe for a rousing picture to be shot in spectacular 70mm! The final product though . . .

The Hateful Eight is a film about a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) escorting his bounty (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to claim his reward. All along the way he meets people he either knows by previous meets or reputation. Together, along with other strangers, they are forced to hole up at a local lodge to wait for a blizzard to pass by. With many clashing personalities and prejudices among the guests, its only a matter of time before the tension boils over.

Quentin is typically known for a unique visual flair that he opted not to employ here. Instead, he took a very heavy-handed establishing approach that unfortunately makes the film drag. This coupled with the bloated, un-amusing dialogue made for a picture that desperately needed the services of an editor. The biting and witty dialogue Quentin is known for was noticeably absent and sorely needed. Westerns are expected to contain memorable one-liners. This should have been a slam dunk for Quentin, but instead we get a film that's as pretentious as its director. (Yes, I just called Quentin out on it. People need to admit he's really full of himself.)

The film took way too long to establish itself. There has to be at least 10 full minutes worth of a stage coach running through the snowy road. Literally. Yes, it looks beautiful in 70mm film, but I didn't expect to be watching a nature film. (I'll touch on how to effectively use the environment as a film characteristic in my next review for The Revenant.) Instead of admiring the view of the snowy landscape, I found myself wishing I could fast-forward the film. Seriously, the entire first chapter between Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson had very little interesting dialogue. I could tell the actors tried what they could to make the most of the lackluster dialogue. The only exception was Jennifer Jason Leigh. Her few words and heavy accent with exaggerated facial expressions made it a joy to hear and watch.

Perhaps what I find most difficult to admit is that Kurt Russell, an actor I enjoy most particularly for Tombstone, bears the bulk of the dialogue in this film and comes across as, well, annoying. And that sucks. Samuel L. Jackson wasn't as over-the-top per the norm, but he does get a moment to be "Samuel L. Jackson".

I must give credit to Quentin for nearly fully incorporating a completely original soundtrack - a first for his films - by the legendary Ennio Morricone. Though the soundtrack isn't outstanding, it is one fitting of the source material. That also hurts the film though as there are two pop songs that feel out of place. This is not a criticism anyone is used to hearing of a Tarantino film, but there's always a first time for everything.

I had high hopes for this movie. Its bloated runtime, heavy-handed establishing shots, boring dialogue, and predictable final act crushed all my hopes for a truly great Tarantino western film. The only silver lining in a film filled with cardboard cutout characters is Jennifer Jason Leigh. Expect a nomination for her contributions, and possibly one for cinematography. But that's as far as my praise for this letdown goes.

My rating: C+

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