(Dir: Quentin Tarantino, 2015)
At this point in his career it's become a pretty indisputable fact that Quentin Tarantino doesn't know how to make a bad film. Certain people may not find a specific film to their tastes, but they are all strong films in their own right (including Death Proof - a point I'm very keen to defend when required). The Hateful Eight doesn't deviate from this path, and works in large part by stripping everything down to the core of what Tarantino does.
This is a film of conversations, and how the twisting tangle of words can lose you in the duplicity at play. There are but two real settings for these conversations, and in both you are left to work out the intentions of those who appear and who to really trust. And fortunately its not made easy, mostly thanks to casting. We all know Samuel L. Jackson can switch on a dime, and those versed well enough in film know that Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins and Tim Roth can never be trusted. Or can they? Kurt Russell is thoroughly enjoyable as the lead (proving here as in Bone Tomahawk that he is so suited to Westerns), and brief moments of uncomfortable violence towards Jennifer Jason Leigh's Daisy Domergue aside, leaves you rooting for him to make it out alive. And she is very good, having fun in this role whist never letting on to her true intentions. For once the language is toned down somewhat, despite the increase in derogatory racial epithets which, for better or worse, make it more accurate to the era. It's just a shame that sometimes there's a bit too much mumbling.
Even though all appears to be as it should, the film really would have benefited from a structural shake up. The way it approaches its second half (for those who saw the 70mm roadshow version that's post intermission onwards) leads to a less satisfying denouement than had it been more open about certain story elements earlier. It doesn't help that Tarantino really does need to learn how to self edit now and again, as it rolls on longer than necessary. However the intermission was gratefully received (sorry all those who saw the normal theatrical cut and didn't benefit from this) without ruining the mood or momentum.
Visually this is a beautifully shot film, but the 70mm Ultra Panavision shooting / projecting feels like a gimmick. The novelty of doing so meant an overabundance of establishing scenery shots to show off the cameras when really this is a film focused on people talking in a room. Sure it allowed for different choices in framing shots, but it's hard not to think that Django Unchained would have benefited much more from this widescreen stylistic choice. I
can't say the 70mm projection added much to the experience, aside from
the "fake authenticity" of recreating an old school Western through the
flicker, pops and crackle of actual film passed over light, though perhaps this was the fault of the cinema projecting it (Odeon Leicester Square in London)? If memory serves the 70mm projection of The Master added more visual quality, yet for me nothing beats the 70mm IMAX projection of The Dark Knight trilogy and Interstellar, with the scenes Christopher Nolan shot in that format remaining some of the most stunning I've ever seen on a big screen. But it's commendable for Tarantino to try. And he got a fantastic score out of Ennio Morricone, which adds gravitas and waves and waves of portent.
The Hateful Eight is typical Tarantino. It's certainly not his best work, meaning it sits comfortably in that middle ground of his still defined as very good. A bit more self-editing and an improved structure would've helped greatly, but as ever it excels thanks to the cast and the dialogue. One thing all the focus on the revived shooting technique seems to hide is that this is the closest he has come to writing a theatrical play yet.