Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Hateful Eight (Film Review)

The Hateful Eight can basically be summed up from its opening credits sequence. It's recognisably Tarantino, recognisably paying tribute as much to older film techniques as the Western genre itself, and it's beautiful. Yet, even as you watch it, the whole thing is just dragged out until you're left questioning if this is really all there is to the film.

The story follows several men trapped in a cabin during a blizzard. Two bounty hunters, their hostage, a coachman, a hangman, a would-be sheriff, an old general, the mysterious owner, and a man writing the story of his life. As they lay in wait, suspicion grows among them, and some begin to wonder how truthful their stories really are...

Now, if that little description sounds like Reservoir Dogs, no, it's not just you. This is most definitely a very Tarantino-esque setting and the dialogue supports that wholeheartedly with many of the characters being the overblown but brilliantly written figures you've come to expect. However, it shows more of the build-up, develops more of the overarching plot and stages the events in a very different manner which keeps you guessing for some time. Even the flashbacks, only introduced towards the end, are there to add new elements into the mix. The problem is that, every time I try to think of a flaw and how to remove it, it ultimately turns into Reservoir Dogs with cowboys.

There is a long, long build-up towards even reaching the cabin and gradually introducing the characters one by one. This isn't done in so much the way Inglorious Basterds did it, introducing the villain and key secondary plots before moving into the main one, but just showing the journey of getting to the cabin. In effect, you have a bounty hunter being picked up by a stage coach, a whole routine of being introduced and then their individual stories. There's certainly good bits to it, filled with those same snappy dialogue and characterising moments we've come to expect, but it also feels dragged out. The whole introduction itself is extremely slow burning, showing the characters talking bit by bit, moment by moment whereas most other directions would have skipped it to keep up the pacing. Even then this might have worked, probably would have worked, but it starts to repeat things. A lot. The chief example is in the early stages where the whole introduction scene is effectively done twice over with only a couple of minor variations added in; that and a two minute door closing joke which is practically a running gag. One which is repeated a good three or four times before the film is over, and started to lose its humour when it was repeated the second time, only minutes after the first one.

The real crux of the film's problems are that many of its scenes prove to be oddly superfluous. They're an oddly good kind of superfluous, the kind where you are watching and interested in seeing how things play out, but at the same time, you're left just hoping it will actually get to the crux of the action. Beyond a few scuffles or some mild distrust, there's very little actually pushing the story forwards and you're just left to admire the admittedly fun visuals and wait for something to inevitably spark up. 

Once the film hits the halfway point however, things dramatically improve. A lot of the fat is suddenly trimmed down, a lot of the problems holding it back are removed and it starts to become a true Tarantino film. The characters here start to have the same sort of impact, conflict and driving motive you would come to expect. The effect is akin to having a bunch of people hold up in one place before putting a gun on the table. It's such a dramatic and sudden shift that you're rapidly engaged, and the slow burn up to that point does assist with the drama somewhat, as you have become fully attached to the cast. What's more, the twist reveals and dramatic turns do genuinely help to keep you guessing about the true nature of who is who there. This works in some cases, and assists in some surprising character shifts which fit right in with the story itself. The problem, however, is that many others seem to be foretasted far too openly. What seems like it should have been a dramatic reveal is oddly predictable, and the only real payoff comes when the film takes the time to actually show you how it certain crimes were performed.

However, what cannot be criticised is the film's atmosphere. While it might have taken its time and remained oddly off-kilter, there is no doubt that the film builds up a dreadful and extremely harsh atmosphere. It's the opposite of Django Unchained, slower, more methodical and crueler by half, with death and crime rampant beyond all belief. While still spiced with enough moments of humour and quirkiness to prevent apathy from the darkness, there's a grittier edge to things which can't help but keep you paying your full attention.

A lot of this review might have sounded very divided, almost begrudging to even acknowledge its quality, but much of that comes from comparisons with its predecessors. It is still a very good film, and one I most definitely recommend viewing, but unlike the others it's hard to suggest doing so more than once and we've honestly seen far better from this director. Almost every other one of his films are sheer golden monuments to the film industry, but this one is just very good by comparison. Certainly take the time to watch this one, or at the very least rent it, but definitely lower your expectations before going in.

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