The Hateful Eight (2015)
You've got to give Quentin Tarantino credit.
The western genre has been declared dead for more than two decades. The final nail was Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992).
Then Quentin reopened the crypt. The Hateful Eight is a Frankenstein western. Like a mad scientist in his film laboratory, Quentin has brought the genre back to vivid, hulking life. A monster lives.
The Hateful Eight is offensive, repetitive, outrageous, nonsensical, provocative, and challenging. And different. It's what films can be.
Is The Hateful Eight a blizzard of ego or the film in 2015 that has the best chance being a classic? It's up for grabs.
The Hateful Eight is set in post-Civil War Wyoming. The first part of the film shows a stagecoach trying to outrun a furious storm. Aboard are John "Hangman" Ryan (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whom he is taking to the town of Red Rock for trial and hanging. He's called "Hangman," because he brings his captives in alive, while most bring their captives in dead.
Along the way they are joined by another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), who needs to come on the stage because he is stuck without a horse.
The trio and driver arrive at a stopover as the blizzard strikes. The trio are stranded inside the cabin with a would-be sheriff (Walton Goggins), an actual hangman (Tim Ryan), an aged Confederate general (Bruce Dern), a Mexican caretaker (Demian Bichir), and a mysterious cowboy (Michael Madsen). Intrigue and violence ensue.
The cast is appropriate. Samuel L. Jackson recovers from being a shrill shill on television for Capital One credit cards. The glint is back in his eye and the timbre in his voice. If nothing else, Tarantino has saved Jackson from the throes of plastic capitalism.
Kurt Russell provides gravitas as one of the two bounty hunters. Goggins, though able, does not have the depth he showed in television on Justified. Dern makes his character reek with old-age racism.
It's hard to tell how good Leigh is since she's mostly behind a mask of gore.
But as fitfully enticing as the characters may be, The Hateful Eight comes down to being pure Tarantino.
The Hateful Eight is a splatterfest. It's a deluge of vomit and blood. Vomited blood. Quentin has always pushed the boundaries.
In The Hateful Eight he tears them asunder. Never has a western had a female with a face so consistently gore-covered and pounded. Never has a western had so much spewing of fluid and vulgarity from various mouths.
Has a western ever had the fate of a couple of characters? Shot where? Did what?
And then there's the language. I always thought the "n-word" was Nabisco. Did Nabisco produce oreos? But after being bombarded by Samuel L. Jackson in both Django Unchained (2012) and in The Hateful Eight, I think I don't have to be overly cautious to report that the latter repeats the former's deluge of the word "nigger." It even got to Spike Lee who vehemently criticized Jackson for using the word. But, as Jackson and Tarantino said, it's a word that the characters - and people - used. Once again, Jackson is messenger of Tarantino's language. It still provokes.
Never has a western had a lengthy soliloquy about humiliating oral sex - and its participants. One can imagine Tarantino's glee at the effect that scene has on his audience.
More than any director since Hitchcock, Tarantino manipulates his audience. He takes us to places we'd probably rather not visit. In fact, we don't want to.
[Hitch once told me that after a screening of Sabotage (1936) - that has a scene in which a boy is blown up by a bomb in a bus - he was assaulted. Hitch said, "A woman critic of the London Observer...with raised fists...said, 'How dare you do a thing like that.'"]
Tarantino plays the same devious game. But at the end of The Hateful Eight, he does take pity on his audience. There's a sequence that could be completely shocking, but Quentin pulls back on the string - or rope. He's made his point. He lets us off the hook.
Tarantino is fortunate in his gifted cinematographer, Robert Richardson, and his composer 87-year old Ennio Morricone. Tarantino went to Rome to try to attract the phenomenal composer. And ultimately instead of just a theme song, Morricone wrote the score.
Morricone did the music for John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) - which also had Kurt Russell. That too was a film about snow, claustrophobia and doom.
Tarantino reaches out and plucks from the astounding range of cinema.
Whatever the fate of The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino once again has left his fingerprints.
They may be bloody and crude, but they're one of a kind.