Friday, December 25, 2015

'The Hateful Eight' is Tarantino's best in years

The Hateful Eight (2015, directed by Quentin Tarantino. U.S.A. English, Color, 187 minutes [roadshow version])

Admittedly, I haven't been a fan of Quentin Tarantino's most recent films. 

Though a majority of film buffs think his 2007 effort "Death Proof" is his worst film, I think that B-movie throwback to kick ass racing chicks is one of his best. It was with that film a new wave of Tarantino came into play: the direct homage.

Following "Death Proof" was the Nazi revenge tale "Inglourious Basterds" and then the slave revenge talker "Django Unchained". I wasn't a huge fan of the latter selections, finding them overly talky and extremely violent lackluster efforts as Tarantino pays homage to the similarly-titled 70's films he took the plots that he replaced with his stylized conversations. 

Anyone can rehash something and add tons of violence to it, but who cares? 

When I saw the trailer for "The Hateful Eight" came out, I didn't even watch it, but commenters on IMDb said it would be another movie filled with tons of talking and some violence. That sounded accurate, and I wasn't terribly motivated to see it.

The commenters were right, so right, and in the best (worst?) possible way.

For over three hours - reviewing the 70mm roadshow version which includes overture and intermission - I sat in my seat and listened to perhaps the most well-crafted original dialogue I had heard in any movie this year. Long passages about character back story, about fighting in the Civil War, and even passages about a naked man walking in the snow.

But damn if this gabathon wasn't one of the best damn things I've seen all year. 

In the middle of a snowstorm in post-Civil War Wyoming, the hangman (Kurt Russell) is bringing his bounty, Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to Red Rock to be hanged, picking up another bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and a would-be sheriff (Walton Goggins) along the way. As they're holed up in a saloon with a handful of other people waiting for the blizzard to pass, characters, betrayals and truths begin to rear its ugly head and the bullets start flying.

"The Hateful Eight" gives a new term to cabin fever when a couple of bounty hunters are stuck together and over $10,000 is at stake.

Tarantino really throws himself back into the original style that thrust him in the spotlight 20 years ago: witty dialogue by intriguing characters crossed with spot-on direction for the overly violent. His ear for colorful and interesting dialogue hits the bull's eye, creating a slowly-simmering potboiler that doesn't boil too quickly, though the lid can be heard starting to rattle as the steam comes up underneath it. To create a three-hour film that is filled with so much talking is hard, and to keep it interesting is even harder.

The last talkey of that length I saw was "Winter Sleep," the 2014 Turkish film about a hotel owner roughing through the winter and the non-stop rambled marathons that drag on and on without ever ending, and not even with good rhythm or interest. I commended the writers of that film for being able to write so much dialogue, but it doesn't mean I wanted to hear all of it.

But "The Hateful Eight" takes an easy rhythm of talking right up to the intermission (about 100 minutes into the movie), and it all blows up from there. I loved listening to this film. It disciplines the audience to listen to every word and get absorbed into these characters who are more varied than a 96-count box of crayons. The blood-splattered violence comes, but it Tarantino makes us realize that a deep understanding of these characters is essential before the final act. 

It's almost like an art house film, where the dialogue is plenty and enriching, and, sometimes, little else happens. Many audience members may find all of the talking to be overwhelming and boring for all of its talking, but it creates such an atmosphere that is stiff with eased tension. Cough the wrong way in that powder keg of a saloon and something may explode.

You can't rush excellence, and when you listen to dialogue like this that has mood, rhythm, humor and relevance, it makes the payoff so much better. I loved every word of it.

However, the biggest compliment goes to Tarantino and his cinematographer Robert RIchardson, who make enormously great use of ultra Panavision 70, used only a dozen times in 50 years to provide amazing use of the extremely wide scope with lush landscapes and great mise en scene. 

Big cheers all around for one of the best films of the year, and one of Tarantino's best ever.

Rating: A

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