Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Western Wednesday: The Hateful Eight (2015)


The Hateful Eight is long, slow, and gratuitously violent. And I loved every minute of it.

While I still think Pulp Fiction is probably the most important film to come out in my lifetime, my favorite Tarantino flick is Inglourious Basterds. That opening scene, between Hanz Landa and the poor dairy farmer, is one of the tensest, saddest, funniest, and most beautifully patient things ever burned to film. With The Hateful Eight, Tarantino tries to sustain that note for nearly two hours in the wide open and snow-covered scenery of Wyoming—or whatever convincingly desolate countryside is actually standing in for it.

For the most part he succeeds. The conclusion is so climactic I still smile every time I think about its diabolical simplicity. It's about the bloodiest thing I've ever seen. Maybe it's not quite as bloody as the Crazy 88 scene from Kill Bill, but let's just say this is the stuff Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger live for. 


The film opens on Major Marquis Warren, a bounty hunter played by Samuel L. Jackson. He's sitting on a saddle which is mounted to a pile of dead bounties. His horse has died from the cold and the corpses he's sitting on amount to a few thousand dollars—if he manages to get them back to town. Luckily, a stagecoach comes his way and he finagles a ride with the man in the back: John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell), who's handcuffed himself to Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman wanted for murder. She doesn't seem to mind much when Ruth beats the shit out of her, which is often.

Along the way they pick up a suspicious traveler, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who claims he's the new sheriff. Ruth—who begins the film paranoid, only to grow more so by the minute—reluctantly agrees to take him into the stagecoach. Unable to beat a blizzard, they hole up in Minnie's Haberdashery, a cozy outpost with a stocked bar and a chess game by the fireplace. As you've seen in the trailer, it's Ruth's opinion that at least one of the eight people in the haberdashery is planning to free his prisoner. When they ask Domergue herself, she says, "You're right! Me and one of them fellas is in cahoots! We're just waiting for everybody to go to sleep... that's when we're going to kill y'all." The way she says it is both hilarious and chilling and manages to tell her captors nothing more about their predicament.

There's a very obvious reason the director uses music produced for John Carpenter's The Thing: surprisingly, that film has even more influence on Hateful Eight than the spaghetti westerns that so heavily informed Django Unchained. I'm not saying anyone was complaining about Kurt Russell's involvement—I certainly wasn't—but it makes even more sense when you see the thinly disguised references to the tension and paranoia Carpenter orchestrated nearly thirty years ago. Imagine The Thing without an alien and a western setting and you've got a great idea of what kind of movie The Hateful Eight is.

It's nice seeing Kurt Russell play the kind of overconfident dork he played in Death Proof because I have a feeling the actor will soon fade into straight-to-VOD obscurity—not because he sucks, but because modern-day Hollywood sucks. But it's Jennifer Jason Leigh who steals the show with her over-the-top, yet honest performance—honest in the way she seemingly flubs what she means to say and struggles with a face that's been permanently fucked up by the other characters, who frequently treat her like a punching bag. I don't think Samuel Jackson is quite as good as he was in Unchained, but that's like saying spaghetti and meatballs isn't as good when you heat up the leftovers—it's still pretty damn good. 

The rest of the cast, including Demi├ín Bichir, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen, are perfect, and while I won't say this is among my favorite westerns of all time, it also took Leone two westerns before obtaining perfection with The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. With any luck, Tarantino will do at least one more western before his career is over, which he claims is relatively soon, and I've got a hunch such a trilogy will be something we'll talk about for years.

So you want gleeful madness? You've got it right here. Maybe more than you bargained for.

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