Monday, February 01, 2016

The Hateful Eight (2015)

I made it down to Portland during Christmas week for the "roadshow" version of this, at the refurbished Hollywood Theatre, which now qualifies officially, once again, as a Cinerama theater. Huzzah. I haven't seen the wide release version, which is not 70mm film but digital, and 20 minutes shorter, with no overture or intermission. The place was jammed, of course, but full of the polite and studiously disaffected—fans of indie film and/or Portland residents. There was a lot of jostling, and restrooms and refreshments were adventures with long lines, but holiday spirits prevailed, and it felt almost like a privilege to be there. In fact, Tarantino himself made a surprise appearance at the two shows following the 2 p.m. matinee I attended. As for the picture, I have to put it somewhere on the spectrum of disappointment. To me, now, it looks more than ever like Tarantino has been on a long slide since his best movie, Jackie Brown, though everything so far still has something memorably good going for it. I walked out of the Hollywood feeling like The Hateful Eight was the best I'd seen from him since the underrated Death Proof. But a few weeks of living with it in memory has not done it much good. Just my opinion, but the second half, where it turns willy-nilly into a British cozy mystery out of Agatha Christie (Tarantino style, which means among other things projectile vomiting of blood sprays), should just be ripped out—where are the Magnificent Ambersons molesters when you need them?—and something else done to salvage the first half, which has a lot of good going for it. It has the same kind of wonderful sense for what snow does to a Western landscape (and a person's interior) that's also seen in McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and with Samuel L. Jackson decked out in a fancy Union uniform it ranges easily from its 19th-century Wyoming setting to simmering issues of race at play in the 21st century. The Jennifer Jason Leigh role is more problematic, invoking murky feminist issues but handling them in unpleasant ways that only seem to get worse as the picture goes along. She gets punched a lot and dies a memorably horrible death. Is it a nihilist's version of equal opportunity? I want to give Tarantino the benefit of the doubt here—surely the painfully obvious reference to Carrie is intended to signify something? I hope? I admit it's hard to see—the point, I mean, but the movie is hard to see too. The set-piece violence is too often grotesque and the action sequences are weak. The second half is a complete waste—wait for a guy under the floorboards. That's when you can leave. I've seen more than one reviewer dismiss The Hateful Eight as "talk talk talk" but I always thought "talk talk talk" was actually one of Tarantino's main strengths, especially when Jackson is his mouthpiece, who is excellent here, as usual. "Talk talk talk" is what I'm looking for in a Tarantino picture, not genre-bending or martial arts or ordnance, but just the art of the bullshit worked to a fine hilarious lather, propelling itself into explosive and ridiculous emotional states, just because the sound of the voice talking is itself so enjoyable. That's here, but not enough.


  1. Don't know how the 70mm and digital picture compare but I'll only chime in to note otherwise that the Roadshow lacked the fun frills of his Grindhouse program. And when they read the Lincoln letter at the end, totally unexpectedly after the interminable plot-unraveling and splatterfest, I choked up a little. Fucking Tarantino.

  2. Thanks for reminding me, the Lincoln letter was one of the best parts of the whole thing.