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'The Hateful Eight': Guiltily Affable
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic
06:21PM / Thursday, January 07, 2016
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You laugh in conflicted appreciation of Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight," a throwback Western contemporized with the director's signature nihilism. Yep, it's plenty violent, pardner ... permeated with it, you might even say. You can't watch this latest example of the filmmaker's brutality beyond the pale without contemplating the curious niche he has carved for himself, a strange world of ironic justice and topsy-turvy morality full of guilty thrills.

But while iterating similar sensibilities in most of his films, the auteur has honed his style to the point where he can surprise and abash us nonetheless. Any sentimentality exhibited is to the notion of cinema itself, and rarely to his characters, who he'll shockingly sacrifice just to emphasize his detachment. The opening credits proudly announce that this is "The 8th Film from Quentin Tarantino," pretentiously delivering it like a gold-wrapped, limited issue of Belgian chocolates. And, indeed, it is handcrafted, doubtlessly a pored over labor of love.

The controversial, self-taught director, the sore thumb you can't overlook in a sea of film school virtuosos, has exhibited virtually no range outside his barbarous bailiwick (i.e.-"Pulp Fiction," "Kill Bill Volumes I & II"). But then, Ty Cobb didn't venture out to poetry, either. Rather, Tarantino has stuck to his modern, film noir penchant for malice and treachery, limiting his growth to a never-ending exploration of Moviedom. His technique increasingly benefits from classical mechanisms revivified and loving paeans to film history sewed into his works' fabric.

For example, in introducing his characters and the scenario in which they've been thrown, he makes no bones about the apparent, derivative nature, instead suggesting that these are clichés worth celebrating and, methinks, analogous to comfort food for the quirky Quentin Tarantino. I bought in, rather gladly. Good Westerns are a rarity these days and, truth be told, I've a sneaky suspicion that the writer-director's revisionist take on post-Civil War Wyoming, examined in the dead of winter, is probably much truer than what the traditional white and black hats told us.

This is some crew, let me tell you, the protagonist honors shared by a troika of desperadoes. Act 1, Scene 1, a stagecoach, not unlike the one John Ford's 1939 movie was named after, is halted by Maj. Marquis Warren, a bounty hunter portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson. Stranded in the approaching blizzard with three corpses, the fruits of his labor, he asks to climb aboard. A nifty, expository repartee ensues, a bit of shoptalk, as the passenger just happens to be a bounty hunter, too, and is taking his catch, the vile Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to market.

John "The Hangman" Ruth, depicted by Kurt Russell thanks to yet another of Tarantino's thespic resurrections, differs from his colleague as concerns the "dead or alive" stipulation on wanted posters, which explains the nickname. He'll fit in well with the intimidating group of motleys that awaits at Minnie's Haberdashery, a way station in the absolute middle of nowhere.

Something's going on here that's for the moviemaker to know and us to find out, much in the manner of what detective tale enthusiasts call a cozy mystery.  

Only in this case, there's a sharp slice of icy wind intermittently shooting through the rough-hewn "parlor," and the witty inferences, accusations and deductions are regularly sprinkled with four-lettered favorites ... a six-gun usually aimed at someone to emphasize the point. But if you're the sort who prides yourself on figuring out who's who and what in tarnation is going on, be aware there's a bit of a switch that will be explained via flashback before the saga resumes and moseys to its startling climax. Good, tongue-in-cheek narration keeps us from getting confused.

The ensemble performances are all stellar, but Miss Havisham's crusty, rotted cake goes to Jennifer Jason Leigh. The actress' wretched, unseemly Daisy Domergue, chained for the bulk of the film to her self-righteous captor, is an evil force to be reckoned with, her malevolent gaze reminiscent of the otherworldly resolve Linda Blair imparted in "The Exorcist" (1973). Ooh, she's bad. But then they're all bad, or hateful as the title alludes, in varying degrees, which causes us to apply a sliding scale when deciding who should be left standing in the end.

It's a bit nutty when a character bemoans the sudden worthlessness of a potential bounty because his head has been blown off, thus rendering him unidentifiable. But such are the ruminations of the fringe humans who oft populate the scab in our movie tastes that Tarantino's opuses keep picking at. While devotees will devour all three hours and seven minutes of this movie, lips smacking, and cineastes will praise its craft, we otherwise normal folk may be wont to wonder if it's something in our primeval past that causes us to like "The Hateful Eight."

"The Hateful Eight," rated R, is a Weinstein Company release directed by Quentin Tarantino and stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kurt Russell. Running time: 187 minutes

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