Saturday, 16 January 2016

Review: The Hateful Eight

Year: 2015 (2016 UK Theatrical Release)
Director: Quentin Tarnatino
Screenplay: Quentin Tarnatino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern

Synopsis is here

By the end of The Hateful Eight, I found myself at a loss. As a huge admirer of the filmmakers' work, I found the eighth film from the idiosyncratic director to be slightly uninspiring. Not a bad film by any means. The dialogue holds that sing song prose we often expect. The humour has more than a touch of the gallows to it. The references, as always, have the type of richness we’d come to expect from the energetic, egotistical pastiche picture maker.

As a fan, it’s hard not to hold a fondness for the films brutal, bloody and bold filmmaking. Clocking in at 167 minutes (general release version), it’s still great to see Tarnatino as the diehard hip-hop auteur that he has always been. The novelistic narrative, the political incorrectness, the characters who hold a sense of depth despite their cartoonish nature. At times it feels like a medley of greatest hits.

Despite this, The Hateful Eight seems diluted. A reminder that many enjoyed the filmmaker when his were more streamlined. It’s easy to see elements of Reservoir Dogs (1992) crop up throughout The Hateful Eight. What I realised is just how much the limitations pushed the filmmaker in his early days. Characters are nailed down quickly while payoffs are executed sharply. The Hateful Eight, much like Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007), seems to put out a lot of posturing, but while impressing from a technical standpoint, never seem to deliver that pleasurable gut punch we know that the director can easily provide.

Something that has dropped into the pit of peoples stomach, however, is Quentin's love for the word nigger, which like Django Unchained (2012), is used to convey the post-civil war era setting as well as the racial tension, which are stirred within the film itself. Of course, liberal commenters were quick to react towards Tarnatino consistent use of the word and with good cause. To a point. Tarnatino’s racial politics can often feel troublesome and problematic. The film could probably easily tone down its uses of such a slur. Yet in watching a film called The Hateful Eight, made by a man whose viewing pleasures are often occupied by the sleaze of exploitation and Grindhouse, while I don’t condone it. I can at gain a sense of understanding. In comparison, Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope (2015) is equally infatuated with the word, yet has little else to back up its overuse. Interestingly, both films, gender politics also come into play. The Hateful Eight features deplorable violence towards women sometimes cartoonish, often troubling. Yet still works towards making its lone lead female (a fantastic Jennifer Jason Leigh) a compelling feature of the movie. Unlike Dope’s various sketchily drawn females, Leigh’s Daisy Domergue is an actual character with motivations worthy of watching. One may not agree with what she does, at least she is not window dressing.

Despite this there are some understandably awkward stereotypes which raise their head during a pivotal point of the movie. Combined with a strange, beguiling, sexually aggressive monologue by Samuel L Jackson. These sequences distressing to some due to their displacement of black women and the connotations of black sexuality respectively. While Tarantino tries to remain canny by once again making his black and female characters the smartest players in the room, he’s doing so in a film that could really do with some decent chopping. Critics have been trying to unpack the deeper themes of the film as best they can. I don’t care too much about that. Mostly because the film isn’t as strong from a fundamental standpoint. The elements are there, but everything feels far too surface level. Yes, even for a Tarantino movie.

Despite a gruff Kurt Russell, the film never reaches the fever pitch of tension found in The Thing (1982). The film's visuals are attractive, but never deliver the same creeping feeling of dread that occurs in previous Tarnatino features (Inglourious Basterds for instance). The film’s performances are all enjoyable, but the outcome of everyone is not. It’s a strange feeling to have in a Tarantino film but, one I felt all the same.

Is this a misfire? Not really. A few of the reasons on why I watch Tarnatino raise their head. No doubt, I’ll see movies this year with a dazzling amount of inaptitude. Something The Hateful Eight certainly doesn’t have. The Hateful Eight, however, seems to suggest that Quentin Tarantino may do well to step out of his own head for a while and take a breather. If what he says is true, then he only has two films left. He should go out with a bang.