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The Reel Alternative: Rambling ‘The Hateful Eight’ Shocks But Never Bores

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Photo credit: Communicator archives

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Written by: Communicator StaffJanuary 23, 2016

Quality reviews focused on alternative films shown at Fort Wayne’s Cinema Center. A column by Zachary D. Elick.

Legendary rock critic Lester Bangs once introduced his meandering review of The Rolling Stones’ latest album in 1974 with the following quote: “If you think I’m going to review the new ‘It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll’ album right now, you are crazy. But I am going to swim in it.”

I am tempted to make a similar disclosure before delving into Quentin Tarantino’s new western, “The Hateful Eight.”

As is often the case with Tarantino movies, the less specific details one knows before going into it, the better. His films truly need to be seen — to be experienced — in order to be understood. This statement may seem like a way-too-obvious platitude. However, when considering how many movies are happy to rely on formulaic storytelling devices or go back over the same basic storyline and structure of an extremely successful franchise from an earlier era (I’m looking at you, “A Force Awakens”), it really is a significant feat to consistently make films that are unique.

Set in the mountains of Wyoming sometime shortly after the Civil War, the film gathers a motley crew of menacing characters and strands them in a small cabin in the middle of a blizzard. Complicating matters is the presence of a lucrative bounty to be had by the hanging of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s fugitive, “Daisy Domergue.” In addition, tensions left over from the war still run high as the characters commiserate and scheme together.

Despite the confined spaces of most of the ilm, “The Hateful Eight” happens to include some of the best cinematography in Tarantino’s entire canon. The visuals are aided by Ennio Morricone’s atmospheric score. Working with Morricone must have been quite gratifying for Tarantino, as he has been using the legendary composer’s pieces (many of which were originally written for Sergio Leone’s spaghetti-westerns) in his films for years.

Moreover, the incredible work done by the ensemble cast is worth the price of admission on its own. Even the usually one-note Michael Madsen is able to breathe a little life into his character, “Joe Gage.” There’s also Kurt Russell’s blustering “John Ruth,” who is as captivating as he is loathsome; the always engaging Samuel L. Jackson, playing the war veteran “Major Marquis Warren”; and Walton Wiggins, who does well chewing on Tarantino’s verbose dialogue as the wily “Sheriff Chris Mannix.”

Perhaps the most memorable performance, however, is provided by Leigh, who gives her character personality and tenacity as she is strung through the ringer.

One of the best pleasures of “The Hateful Eight,” and really of most Tarantino movies, is letting go of your preconceived notions of how a movie should work and giving into his quirky indulgences. And he usually pays back the viewers for giving him the benefit of the doubt with his knack for always taking them where they are not expecting to go. In “The Hateful Eight” the price of admission onto Mr. Tarantino’s Wild Ride is, in part, the intimidating three-hour running length and the somewhat claustrophobic setting — neither of which bothered me at all.

However, the elements in the film that are really meant to test the viewer are the ghoulish violence, hateful speech and the relatively detached manner in which the film presents its characters.

Some have noted that all these qualities make the film seem nihilistic.

I would disagree, somewhat, and assert that throughout Tarantino’s career his films have been too joyful in order to achieve nihilism. His movies don’t represent an attempt by him to reject society’s values, but, he does take pleasure in putting a mirror up to American society and reflecting back its most gruesomely entertaining aspects. This characteristic of the filmmaker’s work has become especially apparent since he began his “revisionist history” phase, beginning with “Inglourious Basterds” (2009).

Of course, there is a fine line between respectable, artistic representation of morbid subject matter and flat-out exploitation. I, for one, am willing to follow Tarantino as he walks along this line; although, after seeing “The Hateful Eight,” I am more understanding of the viewpoint of those who are not.

“The Hateful Eight” is massively entertaining for those who enjoy watching the disruption of traditional form — especially when it involves a lot of violence and bloodshed.