The Hateful Eight ★★

It was the one where I thought Quentin Tarantino had lost his way, all I could hope for at the time is that it would be a one film only slip-up. Anticipation ran high, as Tarantino boasted to the press how he had brought back Ultra Panavision 70mm for The Hateful Eight (the format for widescreen, big sky epics!) yet it was a disingenuous decision considering he claustrophobically bottled up the drama inside a saloon for the majority of the running time. Instead of the snappy repartee we get from vintage Tarantino, this time, his snowed-in western is a bombastically talky movie with characters hiding motives all too artificial, individuals hyperbolizing their reputations, flinging insults that often land with a thud. And by God, so much time passes being uneventful, I couldn’t wait for when somebody in ire to shoot somebody else. You take guesses who is going to die first, but even the fun of that is sucked out because more than half the cast are thin, clichéd characters. Really, there are at least three boring, mentally deficient yokels among the eight.

There are three actors who at least command your attention. Kurt Russell (doing a bellicose John Wayne impersonation) is a bounty hunter who shackles to his arm Jennifer Jason Leigh (doing a gimmicky, semi-amusing hillbilly drawl) to collect a $10,000 reward on her in a town called Red Rock. Samuel L. Jackson is Major Marquis Warren, an ex-slave turned anti-Confederate war hero who is the sly orator among this cast’s quasi-wild bunch. He sizes up the liars in the room like an Agatha Christie protagonist.

But Jackson also is attached to the movie’s most ludicrous segment.

When Major Warren takes us into a revenge flashback, about how he orally raped the son of the man who stands before him, I kept my eyes peeled for some kind of major metaphor. Tarantino has always been a subversive artist who shocks us, even appalls us, who raises our doubts yet gets us thinking about racial violence and hatred that’s resonant with back-then times and our times. But here, the whole scene, and the descriptive words used by Major Warren as he rapes and kills his victim, is distasteful and immature. I didn’t find it horribly distasteful, per se, nor did I find the rest of the movie viciously distasteful. Yet there’s a bullshit detector that went off in my head that tells me that this scene belongs nowhere in a story set in nineteenth century America.

With no socio-political statement, no moral position, and no honest character study to be had, The Hateful Eight comes off as a purposeless exercise. For the first time with a Tarantino movie, not only is there not enough to look at, not only are the revealing of true identities unconvincing, but the most palpable suspense is about how far will the movie go to abuse its’ only cast female (the truth: I wasn’t that offended). I wasn’t bored out of my mind with it, but I had never finished a Tarantino movie and felt empty inside. Until this one.

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