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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Hateful Eight: Reservoir Dogs meet Agatha Christie Out West

I saw The Hateful Eight in New York at my son's invitation tonight, completely different from The Magnificent Seven, as the name suggests, and like all Quentin Tarantino movies, not without flaws, but deeply memorable - and highly enjoyable.

Indeed, The Hateful Eight comes closest to recapturing some of the pattern of Reservoir Dogs, which I still consider Tarantino's masterpiece and best movie.   An ensemble of characters with quirks and patter written by a Shakespeare of the clever line, which is what Tarantino is.   And the plot is pretty good, too.   Since I'll keep this review spoiler free, I won't say much about the whodunit, except that the solution is analogous to the misdirection and ensemble cast we find in some of Agatha Christie's best works.

We saw the movie in 70 mm (wide-screen high-resolution format) - a "special roadshow engagement," as the glossy program which was handed out tells us.   This is a bygone kind of movie making with long screens - employed in Ben Hur, for example - and especially suitable for a stage coach trying to outrun an impending blizzard in the beautifully desolate Wyoming landscape a few years after the Civil War.  Except - well, there was maybe about 10 minutes of the stage coach, total, in the three-hour movie (with an intermission), the rest of which mostly takes place in a single room (which was wide, however, with important characters at the edges).   Indeed, The Hateful Eight could easily have been a play on a stage, and maybe someday it will.   It would certainly work on television, even the old square-screen kind, and at one point in the movie Tarantino even seems to make this very point, by giving us a scene seen through an open barn door, a square image on the wide screen.

Ennio Morricone wrote the score - he's 87 now, and has all the talent he had when he wrote the score for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly released in 1966, except there wasn't much good, but plenty of bad-ass and ugly in The Hateful Eight.   Tarantino, in an especially cool touch, begins the movie with a three-minute overture from Morricone.

The actors and characters are all vintage Tarantino, which is to say excellent and welcome.   Some of the acting talent - such as Tim Roth and Michael Madsen - reaches back to Reservoir Dogs.   Samuel Jackson who was so iconic in Pulp Fiction plays a major role (the last chapter of The Hateful Eight - yeah, it has chapters - is entitled "Black Man, White Hell").  Kurt Russell, who in addition to an award-winning career appeared in a few less-renown Tarantino movies a few years ago,  puts in a suitably stalwart performance. And Walton Goggins, unforgettable in his television roles in The Shield and Justify, and a Django alumnus, is on hand with his patented delivery, too.  Tarantino newbies Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Demián Bichir (who was so effective in Weeds and The Bridge on television) complete the hateful eight nicely (well, "nice" might not be the best word here, especially for Leigh's character, who barely has a scene without blood on her face).

There are inevitable plot holes, characters realizing things a little too quickly, but that's a small quibble about a fine movie - the "8th Film by Quentin Tarantino," as he bills The Hateful Eight - but not hateful at all, except for maybe one or two scenes, and among the best we've seen from Tarantino in the past few decades.

Here is my brief list of things I wasn't thrilled about in the movie - with spoilers.

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