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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience. MOBILE version |
. "The Hateful Eight"

This one-room epic of cruelty and psychopathic glee drives hard to depict Quentin Tarantino's vision of characters of the old West (Wyoming, post Civil War) with hate in their bellies. As the body count rises, the more I came to think of it as "The Wasteful Eight." I was caught between a fascination with how far the wanton slaughter might go and a weakening interest in the jacked-up macho rants before some perverse act of criminal depravity would again explode.

On the Tarantino scale, "Pulp Fiction" this is not. "Pulp Fiction" had a story, construction, and originality.

Divided into six chapters (wondering why it wasn't eight) the first one, "Last Stage to Red Rock," begins with a 4-team stage coach racing against the impending outbreak of a blizzard. The passengers are bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his hand-cuffed capture, cunning and ornery Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

Along the way, they pick up another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), toting his capture: three outlaws, all frozen dead (unlike Ruth who likes his catches alive so he can watch them die).

In Chapter Two: "Son of a Gun," the coach stops for militiaman Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins, TV's "Justified"), a crafty dude who would have everyone believe he's on his way to the next town in order to take charge as its sheriff, though he seems more like a spineless opportunist than an upstanding arm of the law. But if his claim is true, he'll be the one paying the bounties, which gives him a seat on the coach.

Finally, they reach a lodge known as Minnie's Haberdashery -- the party's shelter from the storm. There they find a crowd of lodgers consisting of virtually immobile Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) retired. He sits in uniform as though to hold onto what glory he thought he had gained from his military service; wily Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth); ex-proprietor Bob (Damian Bichir); and seething Joe Gage (Michael Madsen). Cutthroats all.

This brings the gang of ruthless psychopaths to eight, a number which just happens to correlate with the number of feature films now achieved by the lauded writer-director.

For this milestone, he seeds the venue with enough macho swagger and great coats to warm up the room and peel away the layers of deceit, racism and revenge lodged within the people in the room. The mask of civility breaks down as old enemies are revealed and mortal tension fills the claustrophobic air. It's a chance meeting of enemies with scores to settle. Overstatement of threats and old double-crosses raise currents of violence that puff up the running time to two hours, 47 minutes. Enough to satisfy the director's core fan base.

After tracker Ruth ends his diatribe of hate, racism and accusation, his peer, Warren, takes center stage to release his verbal toxin into the cordite-filled atmosphere from which the blizzard would be a welcome escape.

What little sympathy pervades the cabin goes to Ruth's little lady prisoner who gains it -- not for the injustice of being caught but for the beating she's receiving from her bounty hunter's abusive privilege in a lawless territory.

As for the rest of the cast, I see excellent actors doing their best to make something intelligible with their relatively limited roles when the script isn't cooperating. I appreciated Kurt Russell in a key role since his presence on casting lists since 2007 has been rare relative to what his naturally rugged power can add to an ensemble.

Again, on the scale of the Tarantino ledger of greatness, this is no "Reservoir Dogs" either.

Though I realize inveterate followers will find no fault with "The Hateful Eight," I'm left hoping that the sage of violent cinema will find his way out of his absorption in fan adoration, powerhouse status, wandering centers of gravity in a story, and get back his former edge of ingenuity -- which gave us such spectacular successes as "Kill Bill" 1 & 2. Not something this annihilating.

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                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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