Film Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)

hqdefaultIt’s a temptation to add Quentin Tarantino to the hallowed roles of the world’s greatest film directors, but there are problems.

Quentin is not in the league of David Lean (“Lawrence of Arabia”- 1960 – “Dr. Zhivago”- 1965). Lean portrayed the most expansive interpretations of classic novels and historical notables ever filmed. If there’s any contemporary director comfortable at Lean’s table it’s definitely Alejandro Iñárritu, who has a virtual lock on an upcoming Academy Award.

No, I think the closest Tarantino will come to Lean is a to an amalgam of Bernardo Bertoluci and Stanley Kubrick. Tarantino’s films can be nicely compared to “Last Tango in Paris” (1976) and “Clockwork Orange” (1971). They are brilliant, luminous, intense, iconoclastic and they break molds.

And as I mentioned in earlier reviews, some directors allow actors to run their talent with minimal direction (Alejandro Iñárritu who concentrates on setting the environment for them to do so). Tarantino is not one on of those directors. He modulates every word that comes out of the actor’s mouths according to his vision of the scene. Brilliantly.

And BTW, the only actor that Tarantino trusts to do a scene any way he likes is Samuel L. Jackson, an actor that Tarantino has featured in seven of his eight films. Jackson is (as of 2011 Guinness Book) the second highest grossing actor of all time, paid an average of $68.2 million per film. Jackson has never won an Oscar.

Tarantino’s films are all innovative and creative but he has a flaw that I think holds him back from greatness That’s his affection for what Alex from “Clockwork Orange” would call “the old ultra-violence”. Tarantino’s films are reliably marinated in it, not just garden-variety shootings and stabbings, but creative visual interpretations of gory details.

I don’t think that “The Hateful Eight” is one of Tarantino’s best films. He goes way out of his way to spend money on ultra-wide 70 mm film that the audience can’t discern much if any difference from digital. The story line starts out interesting but quickly degenerates to a political diatribe on Civil War discrimination, then falls apart completely in the second half. A transformation that doesn’t really make much practical sense and is steeped in gratuitous, gory violence and sexual deviation prompting the audience to wonder if it adds much to the otherwise interesting story line.

That said, the film has excellent performances, especially by Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason-Leigh and Walton Goggins (from “Justified”). The original score by Ennio Morricone (Fistful of dollars- 1964 and “The Good, Bad and the Ugly”- 1966) is interesting. The story line, mostly the first half, is engaging, well photographed and typically creative, but not nearly in the league of “Pulp Fiction”- 1994

A major flaw I think is that here’s no detectable moral framework in any of these characters, if there was ever any design for such. Tarantino generated a mix of profoundly amoral characters working hard to distance themselves from any semblance of a moral compass. A study of random, desultory barbarity that occurs when all the rules of God and man are suspended. This is a recurring theme in his films culminating in this one that maybe cries out for some evolution. Unclear how interesting this mode will continue to be with future audiences as his reviews are starting to wane.

So, in the end, I think this is an interesting film but deeply flawed because Tarantino is allowed to extol his own deepest human foibles as film noir. This hasn’t worked in the past for other Directors working their own political or quasi-religious passions (John Travolta in “Battlefield Earth”-2000, a mind-altering disaster). It’s unclear whether Tarantino’s previous reputation will fade somewhat as he alienates many audiences.

I’m giving “The Hateful Eight” three of five seizures at the end of a hangman’s rope.

Exceptional violence and brutishness. Unacceptable for most audiences unless Tarantino fanatics.

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