Cinestudio Preview: "The Hateful Eight" packs a punch

At their most effective, the films of Quentin Tarantino are sharp, fun, violent and disturbing all at the same time. They challenge viewers to come to grips with their emphasis on over-the-top violence. In fact, some would say that the unsettling excitement we feel at the hyperdestructive and very very bloody fare that makes up a Tarantino film like “Django Unchained” or “Kill Bill” is what makes them important. The popular director is a master of stylized violence, and yet he makes a point of painting the human elements of personality and emotional depth onto his characters in deep and vivid hues. It is exactly in his style to invest even marginal and unimportant characters with several minutes of backstory- maybe even a funny childhood anecdote. The next step would of course be to kill that character in the most visually aggressive way possible. Call it a director’s trademark.
Tarantino’s newest film “The Hateful Eight” is full of this same gimmickry. More in the vein of a classic western than 2013’s “Django” with which it apparently shares a canonical universe, “Hateful Eight” tells the story of a shabby collection of bounty hunters and bandits who collide in a blizzard after the end of the Civil War. A sinister Ennio Morricone score plucks along beneath the events of the movie, and makes the early scenes feel happily like something recalled from the grizzled and richly detailed world of the Italian westerns of the Sixties. Tarantino’s campaign to get his 70mm film projectors into popular theaters reveals that this feeling is at least partly intentional.
But when the death toll begins to climb, “Hateful Eight” starts to stray from the classic imagery-laden western style that the film seemed to have been chasing. From here we move into familiar Tarantino territory (try saying that out loud a few times.) The director has always had a love for long conversational scenes that culminate in high octane violence, and basically that’s what we watch for a long time. Where “Django” had a more sprawling quality to balance its epic length, “Hateful Eight” has a more claustrophobic feeling, and it takes its toll as the minutes lengthen into hours. After all, most of the film takes place in the four walls of “Minnie’s Haberdashery,” a pit stop on the road to the town of Red Rock. The setting, by the way, is a near exact recreation of the location of an Italian Western directed by Sergio Corbucci called “The Great Silence.” Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to make such a careful homage, and then choose to light his recreation with dramatic high-power spotlights that shine conspicuously from the ceiling.
More importantly though, Where “Django” had a much more obvious adventure template to work with, “Hateful Eight” takes careful steps to eliminate the very idea of a main protagonist.  Here, I think, is the most important point. Each of these characters is pretty repulsive: Samuel L. Jackson’s silver tongued bounty hunter, Kurt Russell’s bearded and brutal gunslinger, and perhaps most impressive of the lot, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy Domergue, who transfixes the viewer without many lines. Hers is a fidgety animalistic performance that works quite well to communicate the mind a criminal condemned to death. The careful positioning of Jason Leigh, who has been nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, uses the questions of misogyny and abuse that surround her character to reinforce the idea that no one here really deserves to live.
If you’re looking for some kind of moral argument here, it can be difficult to find. I have little doubt that Tarantino himself has some idea of what he means by certain implications dropped throughout the plot of the film, but they feel unusually elusive. Above all, the message relayed seems to be that anyone, regardless of their hatred for anyone else, can overcome that prejudice by bonding over the hatred of another. It could be called inspiring by some, but to see the image, it’s necessary to make a pretty big shift of perspective.
In short, Tarantino has done better work than “The Hateful Eight.” But of course, it makes perfect company for his seven other major films.They are thoroughly interesting, stylistically explosive, and of course, more than willing to shed a little blood for the sake of a sensory jab. Just don’t expect anything less than a thoroughly messy payoff. You’ll know it when you see it, and it isn’t pretty.

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