The hateful eight (2015)
In today's cinema, there are few directors who can truly hold the title of 'unavoidable'. If you have any interest in films in the slightest, you're probably going to have to see some of Quentin Tarantino's work, like it or not. Thankfully, most of his work is mercifully entertaining and engaging, but it's a nagging feeling to watch a filmmaker with as much talent as Tarantino continuously peddle the same song and dance over and over. He loves films, he seems to be stating with each effort, and that's why he's here. You, his films posit, are here for the exact same reason, so let's celebrate. This is something I can live with, hell, I can even get behind it, but it's a high wire act at best because it demands that the films be every bit of what they proclaim they are or they are desperately disappointing. Tarantino attempted a western last time we saw him with 2012's Django Unchained and it turned out to be a new stride since his post-Kill Bill floundering, which made it all the more crushing when the narrative went off the rails and descended into adolescent shoot-em-up antics. Lucky for me, Tarantino was not swayed. He realized he's found his match with westerns and so he set to work on another. This time, Ennio Morricone agreed to write original music, Panavision dusted off and refurbished some Ultra lenses from the 50's and 60's, and the script has only blood, bullets and bravado on the brain. With The Hateful Eight, Tarantino has renewed all lost faith, this film is a yarn the likes we haven't seen since Corbucci, every piece of this sprawling, three-hour puzzle adds up just where it needs to and makes for a damn great time at the movies.
Gone, here, is all notion that the film in any way needs you to like it; and in a cinema increasingly plagued by increasing budgets and diminishing monetary returns, that's an increasing rarity. It's a trend that will continue to limit the creative possibilities for true filmmakers and increase the odds that hack commercial showmen can dazzle the public into a hyped frenzy to throw their hard earned cash at the screen before the spell wears off and they realize they've been had. Tarantino falls into the former category, though at times it can feel like he wants to just be counted amongst the seething mass of movie fans. In truth, most of the films that Tarantino deeply cares for are either entirely unknown or unappreciated by the modern audience and the sooner he gets on board with the fact that he's, like it or not, only speaking to film buffs, the better. The Hateful Eight seems to "get it" in that sense. The last time we saw this kind of confidence was the thing that de-railed him, Death Proof. Coming off the commercial and critical high of Kill Bill it seemed that he felt like he could do anything, but when that film was panned, Tarantino retreated and for the first time in his career started to make films that seemed to pantomime his earnest love of cinema and aim for crowd-pleasing yucks. That shit was silly. While this newest outing lacks some of the steady hand that had been seen in the first half of his ouvre, it's made up for by being a damn great western that seems to be a retro-Reservoir Dogs only with a better script, better acting .. well, just better. Yes, the novelistic structure of adding chapters to the films is starting to wear thin and Jesus fucking Christ I don't ever want to hear Tarantino try to deliver voiceover narration ever again (Godard he is not, but damn, it's better than having him try to act in the film I guess), but the film is so much damn devilish fun. Not trying to be fun or funny, just damned fun. The biggest surprise here is Walton Goggins who looks and acts like something straight out of a John Ford film, the amount of scene stealing is absurd when you compare the talent he's sharing the screen with, he deserves to be seen as this film's breakout Christoph Waltz character. Speaking of, it seems like Tim Roth's character were written with Waltz in mind, it was almost too familiar, but well, say any more and I'll spoil something. The point here is, the flick has succeeded in ways we haven't seen out of Tarantino in a long time, and not only that, it succeeds in ways no western has in quite some time. At the core of this film is what makes all westerns, especially the ultra-violent second generation and spaghetti westerns, tick. The film relies on an ensemble of despicable so-and-so's, each with their own method of keeping themselves alive, which comes off deeply different in the worldview here than that of survivalists. No, here we have characters who know the difference between living and survival, and they all keep themselves as players in the great match of life rather than beings who continue to breathe. The sacred building blocks of the west are questioned. Self-defense? if a man shoots at you, you're justified in dropping the sonofabitch to the floor quick as you can, but don't ever, ever shoot a man in the back. The western has always made for fertile storytelling ground, especially when revisionist or deconstructionist, mostly we find it fascinating as it dissects every pillar we have as Americans. If the film has a hero, we find ours in the form of Samuel L. Jackson, whom we begin with in the opening shot and latch onto. Tarantino's love for fractured narrative is used well, this film's greatest strength is that it keeps it simple and effective, elegant in its simplicity. The evolution of the genre has gone from that which created American heroes to that which examines the will to have a schtick and schtick with it. Russell has his hangman routine and he hangs onto it like it's his balls (probably is), he'll put his life on the line to retain his calling card. In the American west, one's legend is one's life, whether we survive or not, our legend lives on, which is what it truly means to live in American terms.
Survival of the flesh is moot, but we still chase it. To be killed would mean losing the game, check mate, and we definitely don't want to be losers. Could it be? The first Tarantino movie with something to say? The evolution has been interesting to watch at the very least, from someone who almost refused, dodged and avoided making statements to a filmmaker getting on in years and, honestly, the older men get the more they can't help but try to be profound. Even John Ford got bit by the bug to say something. Hopefully we're seeing a new direction for Tarantino, but if not, The Hateful Eight stands as a damn great western. Rather than profess a love, rather than comment, this film joins a pantheon, and bravo. One of the best of the year, and easily one of the best old fashioned westerns we've seen in the collective past few decades. Doesn't hurt that it's in a gorgeous Ultra Panavision scope. It looks good, damn good.