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Western Grindhouse Part 2: The Hateful Eight
If viewers didn't already know, Quentin Tarantino let his affinity for cheap action films be known with his Death Proof movie that was a part of the 2007 Grindhouse movie he did in collaboration with Robert Rodriguez and other directors in lesser sequences. In The Hateful Eight, Tarantino expands his love of the genre to the greatest epic proportions he has made to date. The movie is set in the post-Civil War Wyoming territory, where bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) transports convicted killer outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to a date with the hangman in the town of Red Rock. A snowstorm approaches, though, and Ruth plans to get to a nearby business that accommodates lawmen. However, fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) has a predicament of his own. His horse has died, and he needs to get to Red Rock to collect a reward on three dead criminals with him. The stagecoach driver, O. B. (James Parks), tells the Major he'll have to negotiate with Ruth. Once that happens, they travel until they see Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who tells the party he's on the way to Red Rock to be sworn in as sheriff. He, too, boards the stagecoach when the men feel Mannix is truthful.
They arrive at the business, a haberdashery owned by Minnie Mink (Dana Gournier). Minnie is not there, though. The new arrivals find four other men waiting out the snowstorm. Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) is also headed to Red Rock as its new hangman. Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) is a cowboy on his way home. Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), a former Confederate general, has come to the region to settle the affairs of his late son. Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir) minds the store and helps with the horses. He tells the incoming party that Minnie has left to visit her mother. Major Warren, however, has his suspicions, having been to the store many times. A pot of poisoned coffee and an escape attempt by Daisy confirm his suspicions as the occupants take sides and wait to see who dares to draw first.
I admire the look, the sound, and the performances in The Hateful Eight. Robert Richardson beautifully captures the images of a snowy climate, as well as the look of the more gruesome images that come in the movie's concluding segments. Ennio Morricone contributes an equally beautiful score that complements the film's grand vision. The big problem with The Hateful Eight, though, is Tarantino himself. He insists on including the most mundane bits of dialogue that do nothing to advance the story. The main players in The Hateful Eight are every bit as hateful as Tarantino describes them. With one exception, these characters aren't particularly sympathetic ones - and that person has a nasty streak as well. While Django Unchained has some slow spots, Tarantino has a lot more here. The movie combines visions of grandeur with a grindhouse soul - and the result is a long, slow journey that made me lose interest minute by minute.
The best players in the ensemble are most of the first characters Tarantino introduces - Russell, Jackson, and Leigh. Russell's Ruth likes to do his job by the book, capturing the criminals and letting the law carry out its job. That doesn't mean, though, that he doesn't get annoyed enough with Daisy to hit her from time to time. Jackson's Major Warren, though, is a force of justice unto himself who doesn't think so much formality is necessary. He commands any scene he enters with authority and lead, which should lead viewers to wonder how the man ever ingratiated himself to Abraham Lincoln. Leigh may spend most of the movie shackled and otherwise kept at bay, but she shows as Daisy why she's so dangerous. She knows what's planned at the haberdashery, but she doesn't tell anybody. She keeps working her plans and making her deals to avoid a date with the noose. Goggins also has some good scenes as Mannix, a former Confederate soldier whom Warren remembers as a soldier with an infamous run of brutality. Channing Tatum has a brief appearance as Jody, an outlaw who orchestrates a planned rescue of Daisy. Tarantino himself serves as the movie's narrator.
In his movies Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino looked to be a director capable of mixing a gritty style with substance and a bit of humanity. Since then, he has maintained a strong sense of style, but the substance and humanity have faded into the background. The Hateful Eight will appeal to many of Tarantino's hardcore fans, but I found a man whose love of grindhouse has clearly started to grind thin. The basic story of The Hateful Eight is interesting, but the director did little to make me care about the fate of any of its main ensemble. The movie looks good, sounds good, and brings out the best in its actors. That said, I found the epic approach did not complement the good elements of the film. The Hateful Eight, in the end, left me as cold as a winter's night.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Hateful Eight two stars. Quentin Tarantino's very long snow job.