This image released by The Weinstein Company shows Samuel L. Jackson in a scene from "The Hateful Eight." (Andrew Cooper/The Weinstein Company via AP)

This image released by The Weinstein Company shows Samuel L. Jackson in a scene from "The Hateful Eight." (Andrew Cooper/The Weinstein Company via AP)

Reeling it in: ‘Hateful Eight’ is good, but is it Tarantino’s best work?

“The Hateful Eight”

The Weinstein Company

3 hours, 7 minutes

 

Quentin Tarantino is a strange filmmaker. And I’m not talking about the quality of his movies. He’s odd in that he’s treated with such deference for an “outsider” director who doesn’t play by the rules.

Now, Hollywood is full of indie directors who don’t play by the rules. They make movies for 1/100 the cost of a mainstream movie, their films typically go direct to streaming on iTunes, and they have zero influence on the larger industry. They kind of come out of nowhere, and to nowhere they return.

Tarantino, on the other hand, came out of nowhere, made one of these typical cheap, oddball films, and has ever since been treated as though he were the second coming of Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, and John Ford, all wrapped into one. Tarantino is given more deference than any filmmaker I can think of, save Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood, two guys whose films have made oceans of money for the studios.

But, you might say, haven’t Tarantino’s movies made huge amounts of money as well? No, actually, they haven’t. His films are not particularly mainstream, so they don’t really draw huge audiences, despite the enthusiasm of his fans. They certainly don’t lose money, because they are shot very economically, but blockbusters these are not. And yet, Quentin Tarantino gets to tool around in his vintage 1974 El Camino dreaming up his next retro fever dream, and know that Harvey Weinstien is just going to give him a blank check. (If Quentin Tarantino doesn’t own a 1974 El Camino, he should.) How pretentious is it that he gets to label his films by their number on the marketing. Quentin Tarantino’s Eighth Film! Can you imagine if Scorsese did that? Martin Scorsese’s 60th Film!

And that’s the other thing. Eight movies. Really, it’s nine, but Tarantino never seems to mention “Grindhouse.” How is this guy so revered with only eight movies to his name? It’s bizarre.

All this is not to say that I don’t think Tarantino is an amazing talent. Of course he is. The amazing thing is how incredibly good his movies are, especially considering he’s only done a handful of them. And in one way or another, disregarding “Grindhouse,” they are all pretty spectacular. I don’t dispute how good Tarantino is, I just find almost everything about him and his career to be obnoxious.

Of his movies, however, this latest, “The Hateful Eight” features the least amount of those annoying Tarantino ticks. There’s no oddball voice-over scene, slo-mo action, or abrupt film trick, such as breaking up the screen into boxes or “breaking the reel.” No one abruptly turns to the camera and breaks the fourth wall, and there’s no absurdly specific reference to either early ‘70s kung fu or late ‘60s French New Wave. It’s fairly straightforward and relatively linear. I wouldn’t call it mainstream. No three-hour western where 90 percent of the film takes place in one room is going to qualify for that title, but it is, at least, fairly restrained.

Kurt Russell stars as John Ruth, the Hangman — a bounty hunter taking Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character, the murdering Daisy Domergue, into the town of Red Rock to hang. A blizzard has waylaid his coach, forcing the two to hole up at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a roadhouse outside of town. Along for the ride are Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a fellow bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the newly minted sheriff of Red Rock and a despicable racist.

When this merry band arrives at the waystation, they find, already in residence, four characters of questionable character, including a British executioner and a humble cow puncher, played by Tarantino regulars Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, a Mexican caretaker named Bob played by Demian Bechir, and a Southern General named Sandy Smithers, played by the great Bruce Dern. Needless to say, these eight characters, with a few more thrown in here and there, do not mix well.

Oddly, though I appreciate the lack of annoying Tarantino-isms, I found “Eight” a little listless. The acting is certainly good, but the dialogue doesn’t quite pop like it often does in these films. For all the talk about the murky moral depths the film plumbs with these characters, I found them to be fairly standard western archetypes, Jackson’s and Leigh’s characters being the exceptions. Daisy is disturbingly unlikable, a bold choice and well performed. She is often beaten by her captor, Ruth, but she gives as good as she gets.

Major Marquis Warren is interesting simply by the fact of being a black Union officer from the Civil War, and Jackson plays him well. His motivations, however, are not particularly different from the motivations of any typical western character: 1. Survive, and 2. Make money. This goes for the rest of the characters, as well, who I found neither to be particularly redeeming, but not odious either.

The film is very talky, often telling when it should have been showing. I wasn’t bored, but I could see how that could happen. Tarantino’s much touted decision to film the entire movie in 70MM Panavision is cool, but as I saw this at home, I didn’t get to experience this the way the director intended. Still, it’s very pretty.

In the end, I liked the movie, and had it been from anyone else, I would have been very impressed. But c’mon — this is Tarantino’s Eighth film, surely he’s achieved perfection by now …

Grade: B+

“The Hateful Eight” is rated R for gruesome violence and language.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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