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Allen Adams: 'Hateful Eight' is Hateful Great

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Tarantino's latest a stylish, violent Western

Considering his seeming ubiquity in the pop culture landscape since bursting onto the scene with the one-two punch of 'Reservoir Dogs' and 'Pulp Fiction' in the early 1990s, it's a little surprising that Quentin Tarantino has only directed eight films.
(Well by his count, anyway. Depending on how you choose to categorize the two-volume 'Kill Bill' or the 'Death Proof' half of 'Grindhouse,' you could argue that this latest is actually his ninth.)

'The Hateful Eight' is Tarantino's newest work; once again, he's paying homage to a beloved genre in this case, the Western. The director (who also wrote the screenplay) provides himself an abundance of opportunities for sweeping shots and extreme violence just the sort of combination that allows Tarantino's vision to shine brightest.

John Ruth (Kurt Russell, 'Furious 7') is a bounty hunter known as 'The Hangman.' He's transporting a prisoner a woman named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, 'Welcome to Me') to Red Rock, Wyoming. His stagecoach is hurrying to outrun a vicious blizzard, but their trip is interrupted by men lost in the storm not once, but twice first by fellow bounty hunter and former Union soldier Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson, 'Avengers: Age of Ultron') and then by Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins, TV's 'Justified'), noted son of the Confederacy who claims to be the incoming sheriff of Red Rock.

Unable to outrun the storm, the company stops at a popular way station known as Minnie's Haberdashery. The usual proprietors are strangely absent a taciturn Mexican named Bob (Demian Bechir, 'Words with Gods') seems to be taking care of the place. There's a motley crew already there, waiting out the storm one that includes British dandy and Red Rock hangman Oswaldo (Tim Roth, 'Chronic'), a glowering cowboy named Joe Gage (Michael Madsen, 'Magi') and famed Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern, 'Cut Bank').

However, it rapidly becomes clear that not everyone is who they claim to be; suspicions mount and paranoia takes root. No one can be sure who can be trusted perceived allies might be enemies and perceived enemies might be allies. There are secrets a-plenty secrets the characters keep from one another and secrets that the filmmaker keeps from us.
This being a Tarantino offering, you probably have a pretty good idea how it plays out. Suffice it to say, there are a number of people for whom things do not go well.

Tarantino has always been a master of pastiche, fitting together seemingly disparate influences by way of an acute visual sense and fearlessly idiosyncratic screenwriting. The quirky aesthetics, the narrative flexibility, the dense yet engaging dialogue all the stuff you expect from a Quentin Tarantino movie is here. The speculative direction that his last few films have taken 2009's 'Inglorious Basterds,' 2012's 'Django Unchained' and now this one allows him to really dig into the genre tropes that so fascinate him. The fictionalization of history really seems to suit him.

As per usual, Tarantino has assembled a first-rate ensemble cast, largely from his usual suspects. As one of the few auteur-types in Hollywood with enough cachet to build a truly talented collection of repertory players, he has plenty to choose from. Samuel L. Jackson might be a key cog in the Marvel machine these days, but he's never as good as he is when he's working with Tarantino. He's fantastic here, as is Russell, whose combination of garrulousness and a magnificent mustache makes him a joy to watch. Roth and Madsen are two more who clearly love working with Tarantino; they understand his aesthetic on an instinctive level and make it look and sound easy.

But maybe the best work comes from Goggins and Leigh. There's something about him that's tough to articulate; he's incredibly charismatic and manages to be likeable even when he's horrible. That juxtaposition is perfect for this role (and for Tarantino in general, really). And Jennifer Jason Leigh man. She really got put through the wringer for this one it's a physically demanding part which also asks for an incredibly complex and nuanced emotional component. It's a cringe-inducing performance in the best possible way; she invites you to empathize, then forces you to despite yourself.

'The Hateful Eight' isn't an easy time at the movies; the film has its flaws. It clocks in with a run-time of nearly three hours. The pacing is deliberate, which some might find off-putting. The narrative is slow-building and the violence is graphic. At times, the dialogue ventures out of the realm of the realistic as the line between writer and character blurs a bit. But even with all that, there are a lot more pros than cons here. Once again, Tarantino is exploring the relationship dynamics between those people who exist on the outskirts of society, looking at civilization's dark underbelly. The lawlessness of the post-Civil War era is a perfect setting in which to examine those kinds of ideas. It's a good-looking film featuring a strong script and some outstanding performances.

This isn't Tarantino's best, but it's far from his worst. As such, it's a hell of a good movie.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 06 January 2016 05:21

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