Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, and Jennifer Jason Leigh
It’s always a good time when Quentin Tarantino drops a new movie. They aren’t always the groundbreaking masterworks like Pulp Fiction or the perfectly calibrated masterpieces like Django Unchained. Death Proof may not be his best movie, but it’s a lot more entertaining than other directors’ worst movie. He always manages to bring something unique and exciting to the table. And every time out, you can sense his absolute love for cinema. That excitement and energy leads to, at the very least, a good time. Maybe it won’t last too long that love, like Inglourious Basterds. And throughout his cinematic output, a love of westerns has always been very evident. So when he finally made a western epic in Django Unchained, it seemed like the natural progression of his work. But apparently that itch has not been fully scratched, with him returning with yet another western. This time out though he has narrowed the scope of the movie while broadening the scope of the filming of the movie. Coming out with the movie in a special roadshow version projected in the 70mm format he actually filmed it in, he has made film an integral part of the marketing of the movie. And now with The Hateful Eight out, it’s time to see if the usage of 70mm helped out in anyway or was a gimmick meant to lure in the audihaences that actually care about such stuff.
This movie is funny when you think about what it is an homage to. Quentin has made a career out of remixing older movies to create his own wild Frankenstein monsters that become their own thing. And yet with this, there are two movies that are very much apart of the DNA right off the bat. I’m sure there’s other movies in there, but I’ve not had the time to really study it. The two that stick out are John Carpenters The Thing and, funnily enough, his own Reservoir Dogs. He’s finally gotten to the point of remixing his own work into newer material. But like before, he manages to turn it into his own thing without it being blatantly a ripoff. Even with some of those jewel thieves from that seminal classic show up in it, along with some other fantastic actors to make this one of the best ensemble casts of the year.
The story starts off with John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) on a stage coach. John Ruth is a bounty hunter and Daisy is his prisoner. He is taking her to Red Rocks, Wyoming to hang for her crimes. On the road they run into Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), another bounty hunter than Ruth has a passing acquaintance with. A big blizzard is coming and Warren needs a lift. Ruth, despite his paranoia of someone stealing his prize out from under him, allows Warren on. They get holed up in a rest house, Minnie’s Haberdashery, to wait the blizzard out. There’s other people in there and trust is not a very easy commodity to come by. Saying anymore or even hinting at some of the turns this movie takes would be a damn sin.
I can say right now, this is a damn fine film. Fucking great is more like it. It doesn’t reach the same deranged, masterful highs that Pulp Fiction or Django Unchained or Kill Bill reach. It’s not as tightly put together a movie either, in terms of pacing/editing. Similar to Inglourious Basterds in that regard. It’s told in chapters and there’s one chapter that just runs a little too long. But even within that, it’s a pretty good segment that showcases some ruthless shit. I won’t say what, but it highlights some stuff we had been only given hints too. And unlike Reservoir Dogs, this is not a pedal to the metal ticking clock movie. There’s no sense of urgency to escape like Reservoir Dogs d with the threat of the cops descending upon them. The tension lies from the paranoia and dislike within the room. Nobody knows one another aside from Ruth and Warren, and even that is barely a relationship. One or two know of each other by reputation, that’s about it. But the uneasiness is heightened by the lack of any sort of ability to sniff out the truth with any way to corroborate it. It’s in that way that it’s very similar to The Thing. But where that was about those you think you know well being taken over by an outside force, this is about being forced into a situation where you have to trust but just fundamentally can’t do it.
Tarantino has always been a man who makes hyper movies. Energy and propulsion keeps his movies from falling under the weight of his references. But this one while similar in it’s closed room style to Reservoir Dogs, is actually closer in pacing to Jackie Brown. And that’s probably because this is the most low key, human scale movie he’s made since then. It’s a nearly 3 hour movie set almost entirely in one room. So he has to wring out the character work and the tension, letting the dialogue he is most famous for be the center of the movie. Don’t get me wrong. Violence breaks out in the movie. And when it does, it’s mean and bloody. But unlike Django, which was wall to wall violence from beginning to end, this one is very reserved. He very expertly tightens the screws, teasing violence until it finally explodes in one of the most darkly funny scenes he’s written. And when the violence finally breaks out, it’s pretty much a blood bath until the end. He lit the fuse at the beginning of the movie and it goes off in a way only Tarantino can make a bomb go off.
This movie is helped very much by the immense cast he has wrangled together for this. And aside from a few people in here, this is like a Tarantino reunion. Kurt Russell, previously of Death Proof, headlines the movie in a canny move. If you’re gonna make a movie that works like The Thing, might as well cast the star of that movie. Sam Jackson, Tarantino’s favorite actor, returns yet again to deliver Tarantino dialogue like it’s Shakespeare. Reservoir Dogs has two vets at the table. Michael Madsen plays Joe Gage, a cowboy on the road who really doesn’t wanna take part in this shit. Tim Roth plays the hangman of Red Rock, Oswaldo Mobray, and he is essentially channeling Christoph Waltz. Walton Goggins returns from Django to play a man who was a rebel during the Civil War and claims he is the new sheriff of Red Rock. Bruce Dern, fresh off a cameo in Django, plays an old Confederate General making a family related pilgrimage to Red Rock. Of the main cast that are fresh in the Tarantino-verse, it really only boils down to Leigh and Demian Bichir. Bichir is playing Bob The Mexican, a man left in charge of the rest house while it’s owners are away. And everyone acquits themselves nicely to the world Tarantino sets up. Not a surprise from the veterans here, but it’s nice to see newbies show up and not fail at grasping the meaty shit he expects to be delivered. Everyone here is great and helps maintain the tension. Can we trust any of these fucking guys? There’s not a traditional hero in sight. Russell is set up to be, but he’s a little too inclined to partake in some prisoner brutality and is paranoid as hell. Jackson is a cruel, vindictive bastard. Goggins and Dern are racists with a past of hatred. Roth is a little too cold in regards to his work. Madsen is too detached from anything going on. Bichir seems to be giving some false info regarding the owners and other times not. Who do we cling to? Nobody. All we can do is sit back and watch the tensions inherent in America unfold with some more additions to the murderers row of amazingly colorful characters in Tarantino’s filmography. Racism, greed, geographical smugness, and personal vendettas all play out before the bloody ending. It’s like he basically stages a play that’s metaphorical about the Civil War. Yet somehow, for all the bloody nihilism at play in a movie that’s about how distrustful we all are, there’s some hope in there about empathy towards someone else making this hard life a little less hard.
It’s safe to say I loved this movie. It’s Quentin. Nothing he’s done as ever fallen into outright dislike or even hatred. But not everything has fallen into his highest echelon of love. This one falls ever so short of that hallowed territory he has of Pulp, Django and Bill. Yet in stands much taller over Jackie, Basterds and Death Proof. It’s mean as hell while still being a human endeavor, funny as shit in the blackest off ways, tense without resorting to jump scares or loud ass music cues, and visually marvelous. The tension being helped marvelously by Ennio Morricone returning to the western genre for the first time in 40 years to deliver a ridiculously fantastic score. It’s beautiful and makes this feel like the most traditional movie Tarantino has ever made, while still obviously retaining that nutso charm. I didn’t get much into the 70mm stuff, but I’ll just simply say it’s a gorgeous movie. Maybe his best looking movie and it uses the format gorgeously. It may not be Lawrence of Arabia in scale, but the framing and staging is all on point. It’s the first movie in a long while where I didn’t feel like the movie I just saw would look better on my TV, thanks to it not being a digital projected shitshow. The man who started as an indie crime man has graduated to elite director with ease. Basically the opposite of Kevin Smith, who has only fallen into a joke since his 90s heyday. Much like he did 23 years ago, he’s made what can be easily made into a play one of the most cinematic movies of the year.