Friday, May 13, 2016

Eight is (Long) Enough

This past January and February, I focused my movie viewing on catching up with all the Oscar contenders for Best Picture. When Quentin Tarantino's newest, The Hateful Eight, didn't make the Best Picture cut, it fell off my to-do list in favor of other movies that did. But I did recently get a chance to backtrack and see what I missed.

A quasi-successor to Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight is an Old West story of a group of loathsome strangers forced to ride out a blizzard inside a general store. Grudges heat up between them, until they're all at each other's throats in a series of violent climaxes.

I'll start by noting that I missed this movie "as intended" on a sprawling screen in 70mm projection -- the ultra-wide screen format Tarantino decided to resurrect specifically for this movie. I found that artistic decision to be a bit of a mixed bag. It is an Old West tale, set in the aftermath of the civil war, and when lavish landscape vistas are being thrown at us, the 70mm is pretty breathtaking. (Even on a television, and I can easily imagine that I missed out on something not seeing the movie in a theater.)

But most of the movie takes place indoors, in a single, deliberately rather claustrophobic location. And, in the way of all Tarantino films, most of the movie consists of long (long) scenes of dialogue. And while directorial decisions in framing characters on screen does subtly impact the audience, it simply doesn't feel like there's much that can be done here between two talking heads that can't be done in a more traditional film format. Tarantino isn't racing chariots or parting the Red Sea here.

As for that dialogue? Well, as always, Quentin Tarantino is desperately in love with the sound of his own writer's voice, and desperately in need of an overseer with editorial control to tighten up his movies. But I did find The Hateful Eight to be a variation on his norm. Most Tarantino movies feel to me like they're constructed of scenes that just go on too long -- scenes that make their point after 3 minutes when they last 6 minutes. The Hateful Eight, being something of a "locked room mystery" kind of story, does benefit at times from drawing out the action. So this time out, rather than lifting whole sections entirely out of scenes, I felt it more appropriate to trim lines of dialogue in multiple places throughtout a scene. Characters repeat themselves (and each other) quite a lot in this movie, unnecessarily. And many of the same beats play out repeatedly in successive scenes.

But at least if a Tarantino movie is always going to sound the same in its dialogue, he's long ago found a troop of actors who know how to deliver it. Tarantino stuffs this film with veterans of his past work, and they all present intriguing characters: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walter Goggins, and Bruce Dern. Among the handful of newcomers, Jennifer Jason Leigh has the most substantial part, and scored her first Oscar nomination for the role. I don't know that I'd call her a standout among this cast, but she certainly takes to the world, to Tarantino's style, well.

I found the movie reasonably fun, if a touch long-winded. But that's what I expect from Quentin Tarantino most of the time. I'd give The Hateful Eight a B-.

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