Tarantino sad­dled with widescreen dullard

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - MOVIES - By Michael Phillips

“The Hate­ful Eight” is an ul­tra­w­ide bore. If you have the op­tion, and you’re com­mit­ted to see­ing the thing, you should see Quentin Tarantino’s lat­est in one of its 100 or so lim­it­e­drelease “road­show” screen­ings, pro­jected on film, com­plete with over­ture (a lovely, eerie one from the great com­poser En­nio Mor­ri­cone) and run­ning three hours and eight min­utes in all. Af­ter that, it’ll be the con­ven­tional dig­i­tal pro­jec­tion edi­tions at the mul­ti­plexes, run­ning 20 min­utes shorter.

Writer-di­rec­tor Tarantino has de­scribed his postCivil War pic­ture, set largely in a Wy­oming road­house with a bliz­zard rag­ing out­side, as an Agatha Christie Western. It’s not so much a shoot-’em-up (though the violence is out­landishly rough when it comes) as a guess-’em-up. Now and then, one of the du­plic­i­tous weasels braves the cold (the film was shot largely near Telluride, Colorado) to re­mind us what the scenery looks like.

I’m all for the old-school, 70 mil­lime­ter whomp of “The Hate­ful Eight.” Hav­ing seen it both dig­i­tally and on film, it’s clear to me the 70mm road­show film version looks big­ger, brighter, clearer, movie-er. Cin­e­matog­ra­pher Robert Richard­son sat­u­rates ev­ery stew­pot and blood spurt, pour­ing scads of heav­enly light on the ac­tors, even when there’s no plau­si­ble light source for the ef­fect.

I just wish the re­sults didn’t feel like 70 min­utes of vi­able story taffy-pulled out to a brazen length. Tarantino is a born writer, but he’s not a born self­ed­i­tor of his own writerly blab. The script here is rid­dled with showy rhetor­i­cal flour­ishes and te­dious run­ning gags, one be­ing how of­ten Tarantino can MPAA rat­ing: R (for strong bloody violence, a scene of vi­o­lent sex­ual con­tent, lan­guage and some graphic nu­dity) Run­ning time for road­show version, in­clud­ing over­ture and in­ter­mis­sion: 3:07 Run­ning time for mul­ti­plex wide-release version: 2:47

Opens: Fri­day work in the N-word, as both a face­tious and “se­ri­ous” ex­am­ple of ca­sual, ve­nal racism. Sim­i­larly, some of the violence is meant to be sober­ing, whether di­rected at black char­ac­ters or white scoundrels or the much-abused fe­male lead, a mur­der­ous prisoner played by Jen­nifer Ja­son Leigh. But most of the splat­ter is strictly for sadis­tic kicks. It’s a strange blend: a Su­per Panav­i­sion 70 spec­tac­u­lar (the first since 1966) that takes place mostly around ta­bles.

The en­trances and ex­its are con­sciously the­atri­cal, when they’re not pay­ing direct homage to the pri­mary “Hate­ful Eight” in­flu­ences, which in­clude such TV se­ries as “Bo­nanza” and “The Vir­ginian.” Var­i­ous ob­servers have noted a par­tic­u­lar debt owed to the “Fair Game” episode of the lesser-known se­ries “The Rebel.” What­ever. Taranti- no’s a mag­pie, a mashup artist, and al­ways has been. When the movies work, the movies work. The idea here, I think, was to slowly in­crease the heat on a pres­sure-cooker sce­nario. The ex­pe­ri­ence (mine, at least) of it is more like the air go­ing bll­l­l­l­llpppppptttt out of an over­in­flated bal­loon.

The War Be­tween the States, a few years past but hardly set­tled, rages along with the bliz­zard in­side Min­nie’s Hab­er­dash­ery. Tarantino’s mot­ley trav­el­ers in­clude bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Rus­sell, fan­tas­ti­cally be­whiskered) and his prisoner, Daisy Domer­gue (Ja­son Leigh), bound for Red Rock and the hang­man’s noose. In the open­ing scene their six-horse stage­coach meets up with an­other bounty hunter, Ma­jor War­ren (Sa­muel L. Jackson), a Civil War vet­eran with a bloody re­sume and a slab of corpses ready for de­liv­ery to Red Rock. War­ren cor­re­sponded with Abra­ham Lin­coln, and he car­ries his fa­mous “Lin­coln let­ter” with him, al­ways. Also on the snowy road is the new sher­iff of Red Rock (Wal­ton Gog­gins), who doesn’t seem like sher­iff ma­te­rial.

At Min­nie’s, Min­nie her­self is oddly ab­sent. The guests wait out the storm with a tight-lipped Con- fed­er­ate gen­eral (Bruce Dern); a tight-lipped cow­poke (Michael Mad­sen, un­able to stop play­ing with his hair); a vol­u­ble English­man (Tim Roth, ex­tremely wel­come); and their nom­i­nal host, Bob (Demian Bichir). Ev­ery­one in “The Hate­ful Eight” tells one story and hides an­other, and the sex­u­ally goad­ing mono­logue (set iron­i­cally to “Silent Night”) Jackson de­liv­ers just be­fore the in­ter­mis­sion is, I think, the split­ter for this movie. If you find the speech ar­rest­ing and ef­fec­tive, you’re in for the du­ra­tion. If you don’t, you’re prob­a­bly al­ready won­der­ing why Tarantino strug­gles to ac­ti­vate the film rhyth­mi­cally, dra­mat­i­cally, vis­ually.

The ac­tors do what they can. Rus­sell’s the an­chor, and un­like Jackson (who’s good any­way), Rus­sell seems like a 19th-cen­tury ar­ti­fact, not a 21st-cen­tury gloss on the past. But as the bod­ies pile up in the sec­ond half, along with switch­back nar­ra­tive re­veals, “Hate­ful Eight” be­comes a her­met­i­cally sealed ex­er­cise of a dispir­it­ing sort. The shot­gun-blast­ing face-re­moval pay­offs here may be enough for some. But I sus­pect that Tarantino’s big se­cret is a sim­ple one: He knows, deep down, that he over­wrote the liv­ing day­lights out of this one.

Michael Phillips is a Tri­bune

News­pa­pers critic.


Kurt Rus­sell, from left, Jen­nifer Ja­son Leigh and Bruce Dern are among the stars in Quentin Tarantino’s Western “The Hate­ful Eight.”

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