by Coop Cooper
Should the artist always be separated from the art? I used to think differently but now my opinion is ‘no’, especially when they desire to be a public figure, a brand or even American Icon due to their art and actively pursue it through the press. Their work is a direct reflection of themselves, it is within the context of their personality, they are responsible for it and when they have gotten big enough, the audience can’t separate them from it. Having said that…
There are a few famous filmmakers out there who I feel have developed an unhealthy contempt for their audiences. At some point in their career, their inflated egos take over and they no longer care if anyone enjoys their films as long as they get what they want out of it. They give grandiose speeches on why everyone else is wrong or stupid but them and frequently lash out at critics and fans over the pettiest of nitpicks. Their movies become increasingly self-indulgent, less accessible to general audiences and their creative choices become questionable at best and spiteful at worst. We’ve seen this happen with M. Night Shyamalan, Kevin Smith and George Lucas, all of whom polarized and alienated many fans with their toxicity (well, “The Visit” was terrible but Shyamalan is at least trying to get back in our good graces). Although he may have already succumbed to this long ago, I believe Quentin Tarantino presently falls squarely into this category and I offer “The Hateful Eight” as evidence.
Taking place in a frozen wilderness in the Wild West sometime after the Civil War, eight killers wait out a blizzard in an isolated cabin. One is on the way to her own hanging. Another is delivering her to it. A few of the guests aren’t who they say they are and the rest are caught in the middle. As information is revealed and motives boil to the surface, eight becomes seven. Then seven becomes six… You get the picture.
The characters are about as vile as can be. Although she gets beat to a pulp throughout most of the story, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character isn’t easy to feel sorry for since everything she says or does seems to suggest she deserves it. Her paranoid bounty-hunting captor, played by Kurt Russell, has no qualms with beating a woman or threatening to kill anyone that looks at him funny. Samuel L. Jackson’s character tells a story so repulsive, you’ll wish somebody would shoot him just to stop him from burdening us with it. No one here is likable, and while that seems to be the point, I wish someone was at least cool enough for me to root for. The closest character to this is Walton Goggins as ‘Sheriff Chris Mannix’, but he encourages so much racial antipathy at the beginning, I lost respect for him before he had a chance to win me over. There are no Clint Eastwoods here. None of them are as evilly cool as Lee Van Cleef or as lovably dangerous and goofy as Eli Wallach. They are just a bunch of dirty ole Snidely Whiplashes mouthing off at each other.
This has to be the most mean-spirited Western ever made and in theory, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is also one of the most sedentary Westerns ever made. When I read the premise of “The Hateful Eight” I groaned. This is not the direction I was hoping Tarantino would go for his next (and possibly third-to-last) project. Essentially, “Eight” a less dynamic remake of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (even some of Ennio Morricone’s musical score from “The Thing” is used towards the end). When a character’s true intentions are revealed, someone dies violently, although getting there is a laborious, verbose process and there is almost no change of scenery to take advantage of that gorgeous 70mm stock or to give us a break from the yapping.
Why did Tarantino insist “The Hateful Eight” be filmed on 70mm – which is the most expensive, opulent and beautiful film stock used in commercial film – when it takes place almost exclusively in the interior of a stagecoach and a cabin? Because he can and he wants everybody to know it. It’s definitely overkill for a project that might be better suited for Super 16mm. Additionally, I wasn’t jazzed about the idea of watching a three hour, seven minute ‘chamber’ movie (plus a twelve minute intermission). As it was written, the film could have been presented as a stage play, and I would have been interested to see it in that format, but this kind of narrative doesn’t justify its length in a feature film. Producer Harvey Weinstein must’ve been gnashing his teeth while agreeing to all of Tarantino’s conditions for this picture. It’s like the cinematic equivalent of the 40 ft. trailer that J’lo demands when she plays at a venue – the trailer must be white including the exterior, interior and every item inside of it. Just because you can demand it doesn’t mean you should.
I found something to admire in the acting and the dialogue of “The Hateful Eight” characters, and I appreciated the unpredictability of it all but the waste of potential ruined the mood. The length, the unnecessary narration, the cartoonishly gory blood squibs, the racial harping… It would seem that Tarantino’s style is devolving into a self indulgent, exhaustive exploration of his own prejudices/fetishes as opposed to evolving into something that transcends what he has already accomplished. As an uncompromising auteur, he has no obligation to his fans to get his head out of his rear and give us something that isn’t such a pain to watch, but I wish he felt like he did. After all, he’s made some of my favorite films of all time.
He famously hinted he would only make ten feature films before retiring for good. “The Hateful Eight” was his eighth. I really hope his ninth and tenth are nothing like “The Hateful Eight” or **shudder** “Death Proof”.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars