Directed by Quinten Tarantino in 2015

I’ve always been something of a Tarantino agnostic.  I like his films.  A couple of them I like very much, but I can’t for the life of me understand all the adulation around him as some kind of divinely-inspired master.  What he is though, as far as I’m concerned, is a damn good entertainer, and for its first 90 minutes, his 2015 film, The Hateful Eight, is exactly that, crackly, witty, soaked-to-the-bone in mystery and dread entertainment.  For its second half, though, it devolves into the filmmaker throwing blood-soaked spaghetti at the wall, with a firm belief that all of it will stick, a free buffet of cruelty with no nutrition whatsoever.

Obviously, when a film has the word “hateful” right there in the title, you don’t expect it to be a happy fun time movie, but the fact that the movie is cruel and misanthropic isn’t the problem.  The problem is that it’s pointlessly cruel and misanthropic.  During the first half, Tarantino’s story of eight cold-hearted scumbags in the aftermath of the civil war forced to bunker down together to wait-out an apocalyptic blizzard utilizes slow-burn suspense that runs its way through long scenes where not much happens besides dialogue, but you have a constant feeling that the fuse is bound to blow.  Characters banter, talk about their pasts, and express distrust masked in the most ominous kind of politeness.  Every scene makes you wonder where it’s all going, and it’s gripping stuff.

Then the powder keg ignites, and we’re left with nothing but debris.

The entire second half of the movie is nothing but rushed exposition and exploding heads.  Any and all real tension vanishes, characters lose their menace and go from the kind of clever archetypes of Tarantino at his best to downright clichés, and themes touched upon in the first half from the abstract (honor, the good that can lie in bad people) to the political (slavery’s enduring scar on the USA) are left for dead, strewn among the mountain of corpses along with the pleasures of real storytelling that the director has been building.  Performances remain excellent, to be fare, and the craftmanship of Tarantino and his great cinematographer Robert Richardson is superb, but the final point of the movie, of this two hour, forty minute movie, is that people are bad. Gee, what a thought provoking, fascinating observation.

-Ben J.

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