Engaging but over-indulgent, Tarantino's foray into duplicitous murder mystery hooks you in the build-up, but The Hateful Eight doesn't deliver in its pay-off.Celebrating his 8th production by not only continuing his anti-digital film drive, but also shooting in sprawling 70mm, Tarantino brings forward a lavish Roadshow Cut which provides an overture, intermission and extended runtime with alternate takes. For many, however, the slightly shorter (although most of this is due to the removal of the intermission), alternate cut is still a mammoth affair, which brings forth grand vistas and beautiful snow-capped open ranges, whilst forging intriguing characters spouting the director's now-trademark "I only talk in long stories" dialogue. It's what he's known and - amidst his fans - loved for, and between that, and his love for an eclectic all-star (or at least once-star) cast, it's what we came here for.Unfortunately, 8 films after his low-budget breakthrough proved how much he could do with so little, Tarantino revisits surprisingly similar ground, preparing an elaborate single-room setup within which his characters can rant, rave, backstab, betray and bloody one another. Yet for all the things he has learnt across the decades, one of them certainly isn't in the enough-is-enough, excess-for-excesses sake department, with the rebel filmmaker now so far removed from the punch-lines of his elaborate tales that he appears to have lost sight of the need for a successful, satisfying pay-off, instead trading in the kind of anticlimactic twists that are at the heart of all the movies that are criticised for ripping off his patented style.
Where Tarantino - and Hateful, for the most part - succeeds is in the seemingly inconsequential minutiae; a random letter supposedly written by President Lincoln, and the surprising effect it can have; the twisted post-war hatred which elicits the movie's only significant 'classic Tarantino diatribe' moment (although even there he drops the ball); the painstaking tension of a haunting Ennio Morricone score playing out as characters desperately rig up a guide line in the midst of a blizzard; the in-fighting and betrayals which keep you on tenterhooks about who is going to turn on who. At times the auteur's masterful hand appears to be in full control of this chamber piece.
Much like Tarantino's own ill-advised cameo in Django Unchained signaled the point at which that impressive piece jumped the shark, the sound of his voice similarly sets alarm bells ringing here, with a narration-only cameo (post-intermission) over an unnecessarily contrived semi-flashback sequence heralding the start of the end. Some of the twists work; some of the bloody deaths prove effective; and even on an off-day Tarantino still produces something stylish, cinematic and dramatic; something impressive and surprisingly tense in the least expected places. It's highly conflicted though, and will likely evoke much the same feeling - for a film which celebrates such a minimalistic approach to enticing its audiences, and is so successfully enticing in this respect, the end result still elicits that fateful question: was it really worth three hours of your life?
Across the last few films, Tarantino's strokes of genius have felt increasingly diluted by swathes of over-indulgence.
It's always nice to see returning 'Dogs Tim Roth (in a role that felt written of Christophe Waltz) and Michael Madsen in another Tarantino production (although Madsen's ultimately the most wasted here - notwithstanding Channing Tatum's unconvincing cameo); Bruce Dern is on great form; surprisingly Walton Goggins raises his game to stand amidst the rest (as does an almost unrecognisable Demian Bichir); and Jennifer Jason Leigh holds her own. However the piece is still owned by Kurt Russell and Sam Jackson, with the latter particularly striking out and providing the strongest of the characters. Without a doubt, it's the cast here - perhaps even moreso than Tarantino's admittedly still addictive dialogue - who steal the show.
Strangely, though, for a Tarantino piece, there's nothing truly memorable here. Sparks of genius, but no genius sequences; not even memorable quotes or even memorable moments really, leaving you to wonder what would be worth revisiting and sacrificing another 3 hours of your life to get to. Ultimately Tarantino's come full-circle, in a strange sort of way, returning with a film which echos his debut Reservoir Dogs, but, rather than show just how far he's come, instead - ultimately, with its over-indulgence - it merely reminds us of just what he's become.
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