“The Hateful Eight” shows Tarantino losing his edge

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(from Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight)

With “The Hateful Eight,” Quentin Tarantino brings viewers back to what made him popular to begin with: a singular room and dialogue-based action.

Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), John Ruth (Kurt Russell), Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) meet along the trail to a cabin called Minnie’s Haberdashery. They bring together four sets of viewpoints and morals.

Tarantino takes these four characters and puts them in an area where they can’t escape each other and must converse. Conversation moves at a quick pace that creates an automatic sense of urgency. With a stagecoach full of clashing personalities and opinions, repartee quickly ramps up in intensity. Tarantino proves himself to be a master of orchestrating tense discussion as his characters pick each other apart and begin to form unspoken alliances that will be tested later.

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(Daisy Domergue played by Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight)

The first hateful four eventually meet up with Bob (Demián Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). All eight withhold their true nature and intentions, creating a taught, twist-filled mystery that lasts throughout the film. Tarantino creates a time bomb with the setting, waiting for the match to get close enough to the powder keg to let out all of the secrets of this snowed-in crowd.

“The Hateful Eight” proves that Tarantino can get away with whatever he feels like. There isn’t a single shot in the film that isn’t undoubtedly his own. Gore galore toward the end of the movie evokes the bloody half-hour fight in “Kill Bill,” the tight setting calls back to “Reservoir Dogs” and the timeline makes leaps similar to those seen in “Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill” and “Jackie Brown.”

This movie is typical Tarantino: The focus is on the action that the viewer is shown, but the real game changer is always happening elsewhere. The director makes clear that just because the audience thinks they know what’s going on doesn’t mean that is where the story is going at all. Logic is both the failure and the savior multiple times throughout the movie. When characters think they have their allies and enemies figured out, the truth is often the opposite.

Tarantino ultimately misuses the 70mm film and Ultra Panavision 70 cameras he talked about so much in the time leading up to the film’s release. The film and lenses he used are perfect for large landscape shots and sweeping vistas, but most of the movie is set indoors.

Those special cameras allow for larger shots of the interior of the Minnie’s Haberdashery – the lens captures the entirety of the smaller space. This permits the viewer to witness most everything that’s happening, and when there are plot points happening off screen they are hinted at in the wide shots. However, the Ultra Panavision camera should have been used for what it does best – framing massive landscapes in impressively wide shots.

The director’s eighth effort offers what audiences have come to expect from him. It features buckets of blood, its dialogue is flawless, its battles are focused on wit and the viewer never gets the full story until it all comes together at the end.

Tarantino will take the viewer back to the beginning of the story to tell us more about what’s going on and what we missed – a trick he’s employed in his movies before. It’s effective, sure, but it also feels like old hat for him at this point. He should be pushing boundaries, not simply recycling elements that made his older films masterpieces.

“The Hateful Eight” is by no means terrible – it’s equally well-shot and well-written – but the film is just not good enough to be worth its exhausting three-hour runtime. Any Tarantino fan will likely sing its praises, but it lacks the bite that the director’s older films have.

I went into “The Hateful Eight” expecting innovation from Tarantino, but sadly it feels as if he’s merely mining old territory in an attempt to repeat what once made him so successful.

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