The Hateful Eight

I was thinking…

…how we are so convinced there is no such thing as anything original anymore we laud those who do not as much pay homage to other artists as rip-off, copy and blatantly steal from those who came before.

The hip-hop artist Jay-Z’s music is a good example of this. But Vanilla Ice had him beat (if you’ll pardon the pun) by a good decade. His “Ice Ice Baby” yoinked (to borrow ‘The Simpsons’ parlance) from David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure.”

In fact, modern rap in general is positively inundated with ‘sampling.’ That is to say, the entire back beat of a song is lifted, note for note, from another musician’s work and then rapped to. Without the rather liberal ‘borrowing’ of the previous musical work, the rapper’s piece would be uninteresting at best and intolerable at worst.

Not that rappers are the only culprits. Nirvana stole from Killing Joke. Led Zeppelin and Metallica have been accused of the same thing. And Picasso even outrageously proclaimed that great artists steal.

Is this then why Quentin Tarantino is considered a great filmmaker?

He has not even made claims that his work is original. Even those who work on his films have revealed Tarantino’s rather unabashed pilfering of previous performances. Samuel L. Jackson talks about what it’s like on a Tarantino film set between takes:

“Quentin starts talking about some historical film moment that relates to what you’re doing, and you listen to that or some great story from the past about somebody who wrote something like this. He’s that guy that says, ‘OK, this line actually came from this movie and this shot came from this movie.’”

Tarantino’s latest and, not coincidentally, eighth film, The Hateful Eight, is certainly Tarantino in feel, but oddly familiar in concept.

Set after the Civil War, a bounty hunter by the name of John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) is en route to the nearest town, Red Rock, in order to bring his latest bounty, the vile Dasiy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to the gallows.

Encompassed by a growing blizzard, Ruth and his driver, O.B. (James Parks), are stopped by the sight of another bounty hunter, former Union Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) sitting atop a pile of deceased bounties of his own. Requesting a ride into town with his morbid haul, Warren joins The Hangman and together they happen across another party seeking refuge from the mounting storm and passage to the town ahead. The self-described newly-elected sheriff of their mutual destination, Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins) is a former Confederate soldier and naturally distrustful of Warren.

The stagecoach arrives at an inn just as the blizzard is reaching its lethal heights, but those familiar with the proprietors of the establishment are shocked to find that the cabin is instead occupied by four complete strangers: a Mexican saying he’s the new hired help at the inn (Demian Bechir), a cowboy (Michael Madsen), an Englishman claiming to be Red Rock’s new hangman (Tim Roth) and an aging Confederate general (Bruce Dern).

Distrust and tempers rise from minute to minute as the blizzard maroons the nine, count them nine, people in the cabin for what will be at least a couple of days.

Split into chapters, the film is told much like an old pulp western–something for which the director is well known to enjoy. The off-putting aspect of this, however, is that, several chapters in, there is the sudden introduction of a narrator (Tarantino himself) doing a voice over. More than a little jarring, this blatant inconsistency gives the impression that:

  1. Tarantino didn’t think the whole thing through.
  2. Tarantino just likes to hear himself talk.
  3. He wanted to make his cameo, but couldn’t think of another way to do it.
  4. Films critics and lickspittle fans of Tarantino are quick to forgive anything the man does, all because they think it was done for some sort of artistic effect.

I say it’s crap.

Crap also are some of Tarantino’s casting choices. While Jennifer Jason Leigh provides a perfectly putrid performance, making me wonder what it was I saw in her back in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, we are unfortunately saddled (again with the puns) with the worst ‘actor’ ever to slime his way onto the silver screen: Channing Tatum.

The only thing ‘magical’ about Magic Mike is his amazing disappearing and re-appearing accent. Every time he is filmed in a separate take, his accent alters to the point where we have no clue as to what he is trying to pull off. The only thing consistent about his performance is its atrociousness. And it leads me to wonder: how many female ex-strippers does Hollywood take seriously as actors? Hmmm?

Furthermore, his inclusion in the opening credits also tends to give away a vital part of the plot, seeing as how he is not present in the cabin during the mounting intensity. Or is he?

The pacing of the film is, at times, as excruciating as Tatum’s acting. Attempting to borrow from Hitchcock’s ‘Big Book of Building Suspense,’ Tarantino almost manages to make the film feel like it was shot in real time, managing to add not to the suspense but rather to our impatience.

And through it all is the odd feeling like I’ve seen this story before. Key Largo is the first film that comes to mind. John Huston’s tale of folks trapped in an inn with killers during a hurricane sounds oddly parallel.

The Hateful Eight is, however, very nicely shot, and the sound, especially, plays as much a role in the film as any of the actors. Permeating every scene is the incessant howl of the winter wind, draping a subconscious backdrop and curtain around the proscenium arch that is the cabin.

Legendary film composer, Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), graced the film with his melodic talents, composing his first ‘complete’ score for a Western in over three decades. My only complaint is there isn’t enough of it in the film. All told, Morricone’s work only totals around a half-hour of new music, not including the same compositions played on different instruments. This was disappointing, considering the hullabaloo surrounding its inclusion.

Although better than 2009’s Inglorious Basterds, The Hateful Eight is not Tarantino’s best work. Nevertheless, it will, no doubt, continue to reap the glories and laurels perhaps better deserved by those films to which Tarantino is supposedly paying homage.

Ammo Dump rating: 6 out of 10 bullets

I’ll talk more about this film and others during my (every once in a while) radio show. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on WJBC.com. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @ALphaEXray to find out when I’ll be on the air.

The Hateful Eight
Rated R
Run time: 167 minutes

 

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