Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to take a solid score by legendary Ennio Morricone, intriguing performances by competent actors, sharp dialogue and a cool premise, and squander them in another ridiculous barrage of blood and bullets. Some say that's Tarantino's charm. I say it's further proof of his drift toward immature and derivative filmmaking.
The Hateful Eight isn't awful. In fact, the first half contains riveting cinema, complete with the writer-director's crackling dialogue and odd homages to cinema's past. Even better, all eight characters (nine if you count the stagecoach driver) are unique, with distinct personalities, humor and backstories. But it's precisely these positives that make the second half's descent into absurdity and lazy pastiche so disappointing.
Structured almost like an old-fashioned caper (think A Big Hand for the Little Lady), this is the story of a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell), who is transporting a condemned criminal (the excellent Jennifer Jason Leigh) across snowy Wyoming, circa the late 19th century. Before he can reach his destination, he meets an old acquaintance (Samuel L. Jackson) and a colorful character (Walton Goggins, in the film's best performance) who claims he's the new sheriff in these parts. The foursome eventually find themselves holed up in a snowbound outpost with another foursome (Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern and the very funny Demián Bichir).
"One of these fellows is not what he says he is," Russell's character conjectures about their quartet of cabin companions. The same could be said for the film, which wants to be all things to all people but ends up being not much more than a lost opportunity for greatness.
Trying to juggle mystery, drama, Western and comedy, the writer-director lurches from one tone to the other and seems to run out of ideas in the second half, when he resorts to a flashback. Not only is the flashback mostly unnecessary, but it breaks the tension between the core characters that Tarantino had nurtured for two hours and introduces eight new people (and eight lesser actors) we don't care about. And the subsequent resolution is unnecessarily outlandish and cartoonishly violent.
Tarantino deserves credit for his use and promotion of 65mm cinematography. And, predictably, the film looks good, though it squanders its chance for visual panache by being set almost entirely in a single room and a stagecoach. Frankly, Tarantino could have shot the film digitally or in 35mm with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 instead of in 65mm and an Ultra Panavision ratio of 2.75:1, which is wasted, except for establishing shots and a beautiful snowy sequence prior to intermission. Even Morricone's music is partially ruined, as it's both underused and compromised by ill-fitting songs, not to mention Tarantino himself in a silly voice-over narration and more N-word utterances than a KKK rally.
Yes, I mentioned an intermission, because if you see the roadshow version (projected in 70mm), you get not just a break but an overture and six extra minutes not included in the digital wide release, which opens Jan. 1. If you want to catch the roadshow, it's scheduled to screen at AMC Disney Springs and Regal Waterford Lakes, starting Dec. 25. Despite the allure of that roadshow, I recommend you not have yourself a Hateful little Christmas.
2 out of 5 stars