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Wednesday, 11 May 2016

DVD Of The Week: The Hateful Eight (2015)


Sometime after the end of the American Civil War, a stagecoach is hurtling through snow-covered Wyoming, trying to keep ahead of a blizzard. On board are grizzled bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his valuable prisoner, the murderous Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

On their journey they encounter a couple of men, seeking rescue from the cold, fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson), and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the new sheriff of Red Rock - the coach's ultimate destination.

Unable to outpace the storm, the coach stops at Minnie's Haberdashery, an isolated waystation in the mountains, where they meet a number of other strangers (Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, and Demián Bichir) - but, suspiciously, not the station's owner or her partner.

Then the storm hits and they are stuck there until it passes.

The Hateful Eight is another Western masterpiece from Quentin Tarantino, who draws on a number of familiar techniques (chapters, non-sequential storytelling, historical liberties etc) to mesmerise his audience for two-and-three-quarter hours.

As might be expected from a Tarantino movie, as well as excessive harsh language (and a heap of racial slurs), the scenario eventually builds to a very bloody - and protracted - climax.

However, unlike many Tarantino movies, the dialogue isn't particularly one of the stand-out features of The Hateful Eight, instead relying primarily on atmosphere and tension to hold the audience's attention for such a long time.

Yes, the film could possibly have been trimmed slightly, and its epic length reduces the instant rewatch potential, but don't let that put you off this dark, character-driven drama.

With the long middle act of the film, and much of the final act, taking place in a single - albeit large - room, The Hateful Eight can feel like a play at times, which, again, isn't necessarily a bad thing and highlights Tarantino's willingness to experiment with film-making styles.

Both this, and the sweeping scenery the coach travels through in the opening act of the film, make majestic use of widescreen. I hate to think how crushed, or cut, this beautiful-looking work of art would appear in full-screen or on an old-style TV set.

In a number of ways, The Hateful Eight took me back to Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, hitting many similar beats.

The plot is similarly straight-forward, while the story is complicated by the many strong characters and their individual, and often hidden, goals.

Every character the audience is introduced to along the way is, in some way, a bad person and one of the film's themes is the value of reputation (generally regarded as a key element of the old west, or, at least, Westerns).

Ruth knows the financial worth of his prisoner, and fears others might be out to steal her from him for the cash reward or to simply set her free. His paranoia is infectious and we quickly become suspicious of everyone, doubting what they saying, looking for double-meanings, or clues to who wants what.

And Tarantino is in no hurry to get to the big reveal, ratcheting up the tension as tightly - and slowly - as he can. This isn't a film for someone looking for a quick fix. The Hateful Eight requires investment.

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