“THE HATEFUL EIGHT” My rating: C
168 minutes | MPAA rating: R
Quentin Tarantino’s films rarely have much to say.
It’s the masterful style with which he doesn’t say anything that accounts for the filmmaker’s critical and popular success.
“The Hateful Eight” suggests that approach is wearing thin.
Absurdly violent yet overly talky, queasily looking for laughs in racism and sexism, and essentially devoid of meaning (unless you find meaning in nihilism), this Western arrives in a blast of near-comical self importance.
Shot on 70mm film (at least in the version opening Christmas Day at the AMC Town Center; it begins a run in conventional digital a week later) and featuring a 3-hour running time that includes both an overture and intermission, “The Hateful Eight” harkens back to the long-ago days of road-show movie exhibition.
Except, again, it’s not actually about anything.
The film begins with astonishing widescreen vistas of a stagecoach working its way across blinding mountainside snowfields. But, perversely enough, it spends most of its time claustrophobically sealed in a one-room stagecoach station. Which makes Tarantino’s use of 70mm film seem like a case of using an elephant gun to get rid of a housefly.
John Ruth (Kurt Russell ), a shaggy bounty hunter with Yosemite Sam facial hair, and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are the only passengers on a stagecoach bound for Red Rocks, the town where Ruth will deliver Daisy for hanging.
They’re stopped in the middle of nowhere by yet another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a former officer in the Union Army who still wears his flamboyant blue-and-gold military greatcoat. Warren’s horses have died in a blizzard and he needs a lift for himself and the corpses of the two criminals he has gunned down.
Ruth is immediately suspicious, concerned that he may be robbed of his prisoner before he can collect the bounty. But he allows Warren and the two stiffs to come aboard, and soon they have arrived at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a sort of middle-of-nowhere Quik-Trip for the frontier set.
Minnie and the way station regulars are off attending to family business, according to Bob (Demian Bichir), the Mexican hand who helps stable the horses from an oncoming blizzard.
Inside the station are several stranded travelers.
There’s Smithers (Bruce Dern), a former Confederate general who still wears his uniform. Mannix (Walton Goggins) is on his way to Red Rocks to start his new job as sheriff. The British Mobray (Tim Roth) identifies himself as the territorial hangman — he’ll be stretching Daisy’s neck pretty soon.
Joe (Michael Madsen) is a quietly intimidating cowhand. Rounding out the gathering is Ruth’s stagecoach driver, the inoffensive O.B. (James Parks).
There is much macho posturing as these various personalities determine the pecking order. (It may be intended as comic, but I rarely laughed.)
And there’s lots of race baiting. Here we’ve got a black man who insists on the deference accorded everyone else…that’s sure to stir up negative sentiments, especially from the former Confederate general. (BTW…am I the only one offended by Tarantino’s overreliance on the “n” word?)
There’s a sort of Agatha Christie drawing room mystery to the first half of the film. Snowed in and forced to confront one another, some of these he-men drop hints that maybe they aren’t who they say they are. Mind games are played.
And who the hell poisoned the coffee?
Throughout the slatternly Daisy makes wise-ass comments and gets knocked around by her captor. Leigh doesn’t have to do much acting and when she does it’s through a mask of dried blood.