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The Hateful Eight – mixed reaction

We went to see the much anticipated new Tarantino film, The Hateful Eight, yesterday afternoon. I haven’t seen all of Tarantino’s films, and I confess I’m not one of those fans who hang on every frame of his movies. At the opening of the film, a credit tells us this is the 8th film by Quentin Tarantino, so I did the math – I’ve seen half of them.

The Hateful Eight, a western set after the American Civil War, is in some ways much like a stage play. For the most part there are two sets – out in a blizzard in and around a stage coach – and in Millie’s Haberdashery, a building that might be a roadhouse but certainly isn’t a haberdashery. Perhaps it is called a haberdashery in the film because this is the place where the various threads of the story are sewn together.

The dialogue too seems more like dialogue we might hear in a stage play than in a film. In parts, especially in the first half of the film, which hangs on it, the dialogue came across to me to be somewhat artificial with an underlying cynicism, and it failed to drive the movie forward. At one point during the first half, I thought oh my God, this is a 3 hour film, do I really want to watch 3 hours of this?

The film does pick up, though, and the stilted dialogue of the first few “chapters” gives way to dark humour, a big plot twist and highly exaggerated gory violence.

There are some choice bits for sure. For instance, I really liked the scene in which the Daisy Domergue character (Jennifer Jason Leigh) picks up a guitar and sings Jim Jones to Botany Bay. I don’t know if it is possible that a character in the 1870s could have known this Australian folk ballad, which was first published in 1907, but it was an excellent choice and quite a performance too. The tune is about the outlaw Jim Jones, who would rather die drowning or join a pirate crew than be imprisoned at Botany Bay.

Tarantino offers one nod to past westerns, or at least spaghetti westerns, in that it features original music by Ennio Morricone, who also did the music, for instance, for the 1966 spaghetti western, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The music is excellent too, although it should be noted there are long stretches of the film in which the only music is the ever-present sound of the blizzard outside.

You could say The Hateful Eight is very distinctive and stylized and in that way carries Tarantino’s mark. Or you might say it’s excessive and self-indulgent. I’m not entirely sure which side of that fence I’m on. Perhaps this movie surfs that line.

As a whole, I have to say I liked parts of The Hateful Eight better than I liked the whole film. It was an uneven effort but still well worth watching.

 

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