The Hateful Eight: Frontier western offers best, worst of cinema

Quentin Tarantino just isn’t for everyone.

His most ardent fans – ones who’ve seen “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” countless times and can quote “True Romance” by heart even though Tarantino just wrote the script – would argue that the director is a cinematic icon and leading provocateur for this generation of filmmakers.

Others would argue that Tarantino’s movies overtly glamorize violence to the point of poor taste and are unworthy of the critical acclaim they almost universally receive.

His newest film, “The Hateful Eight,” is sure to exacerbate those arguments as Hollywood’s most in-your-face director wrings tension within close quarters better than any filmmaker this decade, locking a terrific ensemble cast inside a small haberdashery snowed in during post Civil War Wyoming and letting the chaos ensue.

The film starts in picturesque expanses along the frontier and squeezes down into a claustrophobic, Alfred Hitchcock-esque mystery thrill ride that will leave viewers on the edge of their seats in the movie’s final hour.

Describing what occurs in “The Hateful Eight” would deprive potential viewers of the narrative’s glorious twists and turns, but Tarantino’s screenplay effectively utilizes a six chapter structure with dialogue banter closely mirroring a cross between Tarantino’s own “Pulp Fiction” and an Agatha Christie novel.

All the trademarks of a vintage Tarantino script are there, from the snappy verbal repartee to the scene-smashing monologues and more blood-quenching brutality than one could hope for from one of the masters of gore.

Moviegoers will be hotly debating Tarantino’s stance on femininity and violence towards women thanks in large part to a revealing and powerful performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh, the only woman among the main cast, and the primary villain at the film’s outset.

Despite playing a role where she must be brutally beaten by a morally righteous Kurt Russell, Leigh takes the punches and spars right on back with the best of Tarantino’s stellar ensemble. Her performance as the murderous Daisy Domergue, which puts her among the leading contenders for a Best Supporting Actress nomination and the presumptive favorite to win the prize, is as shockingly visceral and poignant as any other performance to come out in 2015.

Tarantino goes to severe lengths to make Daisy the most androgynous character in recent memory, reinforcing the notion that the character’s gender would not matter and that a male version of Daisy would be treated in the same manner. His take on gender (and racial) equality issues are hammered home with brutal effectiveness, leaving viewers apt to engage in social issues dialogue following a screening in a way no other film has done in years.

While certainly not the biggest name in the cast, Leigh represents the true on-screen star of “The Hateful Eight,” though Tarantino reminds everyone he’s center stage with plot driving narration throughout.

Amid the ensemble, Russell – and for that matter an incredibly weathered Bruce Dern – offer the spaghetti western adventure grit and nostalgia in a film that needs gravitas to anchor down the chaos.

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Though it appears from the outset as if Russell will do most of the heavy lifting, Tarantino turns to his most frequent muse, Samuel L. Jackson, to bully his way through the script, dominating scenes filmed in tight quarters like he takes up half the room, no small feat with this ensemble.

Indeed, Jackson’s crucial monologue at the end of the third chapter is so perfectly crafted that the scene alone represents the hardest working character actor in the business’s best performance since “Pulp Fiction” in 1994.

“The Hateful Eight” represents Tarantino’s most self indulgent, arrogant entry in his illustrious filmography and the most overtly excessive film since Martin Scorcese used excess to visually describe financial gluttony in “The Wolf of Wall Street” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. At nearly three hours, “Hateful Eight” is almost painstakingly long and feels like the director’s cut of a film half as long. Tarantino wants viewers to feel the length of his movie and it’s impossible to miss.

Not since “Khartoum” in 1966 has a major motion picture been shot using entirely UltraPanavision 70 mm film, a fact the filmmakers don’t want anyone to forget for a second. The format allows for extreme panoramic shots with exceptional detail in a way matched only by the likes of “Ben-Hur.”

Sitting in “The Hateful Eight,” there’s never a moment where veteran consumers of Tarantino’s work can believe another director was involved. Tarantino might as well have signed the film reels himself and been in the projectionist’s room in every theater across America.

He’s there whether audiences want him to be or not. That’s the brilliance of his arrogance. The stench of inevitable death pervades the air moment to moment and scene by scene until the bitter, tumultuous end.

It’s a cinematic style that will dazzle and insult moviegoers simultaneously, forcing them to turn away and insisting they keep watching over and over again for nearly three hours.

No other film – and especially no other director – would insist upon the most grandiose, over the top viewing experience, with a pre-film overture, mid-film intermission, retro filming and even a souvenir program shouting “This is how ‘Ben-Hur’ did it” with all the arrogance that implies about his film, the modern day “Ben-Hur” of his mind.

You want to look away, but you can’t. You want to hate this film, but it’s impossible to on a strictly cinematic level. The brilliance of an arrogance like this is that you hate how right Tarantino is, the best and worst of cinema at the same time.

“The Hateful Eight” could accurately be described as racist, misogynistic and accepting of both women and minorities all in the same breath. It’s a film that demands thoughtful conversation following screening and compelling cinema for true fans of the visual art form.

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