The Hateful Eight / *****

Qthe-hateful-eight-poster1uentin Tarantino is a natural-born filmmaker, a director who has yet to make a truly bad film. (When the worst thing you’ve made is Death Proof, which is still really good, you’re doing pretty well for yourself.) So it’s not as though I was going to wait on seeing The Hateful Eight. But when the chance came to see the film in the limited roadshow format – in 70mm projection, with an overture, intermission, and a slightly longer cut of the film – it became a must-watch experience for me. And having seen this version of the film, I can’t imagine seeing it any other way; all I can imagine is that I’d spend so much of the film missing the spectacle, yes, but also the pacing, and maybe especially that intermission.

In a lot of ways, it’s the intermission more than anything else that makes seeing The Hateful Eight in the roadshow format so essential. Yes, Tarantino makes nice use of the 70mm format; for a film that’s set almost entirely within a single confined room, Tarantino’s use of the desolate landscape in the early going can’t be understated, helping to set the stark, hopeless mood of the film before the plot itself even gets going. And once you’re into the isolated walls of Minnie’s Haberdashery, Tarantino still makes the most of his wide frame, constantly letting you see what everyone’s doing, sliding the focus expertly, and just generally demonstrating his absurd talent at direction.

But, again, it’s the intermission that’s perhaps most essential, because it gives you breathing room in this black-hearted, brutal film. Yes, The Hateful Eight gets violent – absurdly so – in the back half, but that’s almost nothing compared to the vitriol, dark worldview, and brutal natures of the men who populate its world. In his uneven Django Unchained, Tarantino slowly immersed us into the horrors of slavery and plantations, letting us enjoy Waltz and Foxx’s revenge quests before pushing us to really look at the horrors of history. But The Hateful Eight doesn’t wait for that. There are no heroes here, no good people. Misogynists, racists, Confederate sympathizers, lynch mobs, thieves, murderers – that’s your cast here, and we’re left to decide who the least horrible among them is. And given the dark place where the film ends up, it’s hard to say that any of them are “good” at all.

And yet, that’s part of what makes the film so gripping. This is Tarantino staring straight back at the horrific society we find ourselves in – a world of Black Lives Matter, constant racism, sexism, hatred, Confederate flags, and more. It’s hard not to feel that The Hateful Eight is an exorcism of modern demons, put into the guise of a stage play about a group of bounty hunters who end up in a single location and start turning on each other. And by the time you get to the stunning, knockout monologue that closes the first half, you’re going to be glad for that intermission as a chance to catch your breath and brace for what’s still to come.

Yes, as some have argued, this is basically a play on film. But given Tarantino’s gift for dialogue, that barely matters, and matters even less when you have as fantastic a cast as he’s collected here, all of whom give themselves entirely over to the film. It’s hard to single out a favorite, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this is Samuel L. Jackson’s film; he gives his best performance in years, maybe since Pulp Fiction; mind you, he’s nearly matched by Walton Goggins, whose verbose, drawling persona makes him a perfect fit for Tarantino.

I have some small issues with The Hateful Eight, most notably in the final act, where a big reveal feels like a bit of a cheat to me. But none of that detracts from the draining power of the experience, Tarantino’s astonishing filmmaking, and the phenomenal acting on display. It’s not a film for all tastes; it’s black-hearted, bleak, nasty, violent, and grim. But for those who can weather it, it’s a knockout piece of work, and one worth seeing for so many reasons.

But, you may be wishing for that intermission if you don’t have it.


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