THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Looking back on my lukewarm (pardon the pun) response to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I wondered if it was me, more than the movie, that had let me down. The promise of a Star Wars that could return me to the bygone feeling of discovery and wonder that movies used to impart drew me into the trap. In fairness, JJ Abrams did what he could, and his installment looks and feels strikingly like the Star Wars universe that sucked us all in in the first place. What it made me realize, though, is that my nostalgia trip isn't about Star Wars at all; it's about feeling in love with the movies.
I have been chasing this dragon since childhood, returning to favorites of my youth, only to spoil their effect with my alternately liquor- and pie-eyed gaze. Despite the wear of age — shifting perspectives, hardening attitudes, the natural impulse to put away childish things — I still approach contemporary cinema with hope and ardor, believing in its capacity to transport, and that may be why I am so consistently disappointed. I've grown too old and crusty to enjoy kids' movies, but most of the grown-up stuff is too insipid, uninspired or self-serious. There is still a flicker of hope from modern low-budget horror, though. And there is the roaring, heartening fire of Quentin Tarantino's increasingly sophisticated canon.
The Hateful Eight made me realize that I haven't outgrown knock-out movie highs, at all; I'm just always waiting for my man. Pulp Fiction shook me out of early-onset cinematic ennui and, ever since, I've been able to count on Tarantino for a silver screen experience that will, at some point but probably from the opening frame to the closing credits, make me feel like a kid again. It's partly a visceral reaction, a giddiness at seeing something I'm not supposed to. But as I've aged (some might say matured) Tarantino has grown up right along with me, continuing to refine and enlarge his writing even as he's formalized some of his early visual style (which I still love) out of existence. He has continued to play with genre and genre conventions so that he can now do so like a conductor with an orchestra. And with The Hateful Eight, he has found the perfect symphony.
In post-Civil War Wyoming, a stagecoach struggles to outrun a fast-approaching blizzard. Its progress is stopped by a black man in a Union cavalry officer's coat sitting atop a pile of frozen corpses in the road. He, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a bounty hunter with three bounties to collect and no horse, is in need of a ride. Fortunately for him, the stage has been chartered by John Ruth (Kurt Russell), another bounty hunter, albeit one who transports his quarry alive to their final destination at the end of rope. He's transporting one Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Ruth is a brute, but a somewhat enlightened one — a humanist with a fondness for Abraham Lincoln and an evolving perspective on race (a perspective Domergue does not share). He reluctantly lets Warren aboard, and continues on, storm fast approaching. In no time, they encounter another stranger afoot in the cold; this time Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), would-be sheriff of Red Rock, the party's destination. Mannix is also the son of legendary Confederate officer, a man who refused to capitulate to the Union and who took satisfaction in decimating free-black settlements. This makes for an uncomfortable ride. Since they can't beat the blizzard into Red Rock, the group, with driver O.B. (James Parks), holes up at Minnie's Haberdashery, a jokingly named remote trading post. Minnie's is more crowded than expected, and tensions run high as soon as the door blows open.
Tarantino's epic Western becomes a locked-room mystery with an ingenious subtext about hate, particularly race-hate, in America. There are no true heroes in this story but every character is intelligent, wily, motivated and capable of invention. Perhaps his most dialogue-heavy movie yet (that's saying something), The Hateful Eight is a slow burn, running almost three hours with the blood-letting only really starting in the back half. Talky as it may be, though, there isn't a single word out of place, not a thought or sentence that fails to contribute to the story and developing the movie's themes. And when the rough stuff starts, it is as inventive and over the top as anyone could hope for.
Some might take issue with typical Tarantino quirks (casting himself as narrator, insisting on shooting a movie that mostly takes place in one room on beyond-rare Panavision Super 70-millimeter film), but they are part of what makes this movie great. On the surface, it is largely an exercise in formal, precise, old-fashioned movie making. The framing is exquisite; the camera positions unfailingly perfect; the lighting naturalistic and nuanced (these are all down to the influence of Director of Photography Robert Richardson). But then we have Tarantino's flourishes: his trademark dialogue, a plot driven by tension both narrative and racial, a fascinating dissection of late 19th century America as movie-fodder and as precursor to the boiling-over of our current social climate. The details are stunning, the characters drawn from history and American mythology are indelible and the jokes are hilarious. The Hateful Eight sets an impossibly high bar for the coming year. R. 187m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
Fortuna Theatre listings were not available at press time. For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.
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— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill