Imagine a Christmas Day where more than three hours of extreme violence, racist and often profane language as well as enough dialogue to choke a team of horses are parts of your holiday festivities. It will be if you go to opening-day 70mm screenings of “The Hateful Eight,” Quentin Tarantino’s latest and reddest homage to Spaghetti Westerns, B-Movie mores and even Agatha Christie (not sure that last one’s intentional, but it’s true). There is more to his latest opus, but in case you dropped in from another galaxy (hey, we’re living in a “Star Wars” world right now, so please pardon the strained reference) and aren’t familiar with his work you’ve now been advised about some of the movie’s more lurid aspects.
The Nashville area is one of 44 localities that will present the film in Ultra Panavision 70, not used since Laurence Olivier and Charlton Heston faced off in 1966’s “Khartoum,” playing at Franklin’s Carmike Thoroughbred 20 (633 Frazier Dr.) in that format before opening wide in today’s conventional digital form Dec. 31 (the 70mm screenings will continue as well). Tarantino isn’t the only contemporary auteur to play with 70mm’s wide-scope, high-resolution capabilities; Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 release of “The Master” was another film distributed by The Weinstein Company in that format, to note one example.
Using Ultra Panavision 70 lenses certainly makes for breathtaking views of the wintry mountain ranges – Colorado stands in for the tale’s Wyoming setting – we’re treated to as the film opens an indeterminate number of years after the Civil War (offering a cinematic complement to the before-war story of 2012’s “Django Unchained.”) The interesting thing about the format so expertly lensed by cinematographer Robert Richardson and edited by Fred Raskin is how it’s ultimately used, though, since after the first 40 minutes we’re primarily treated to the fairly claustrophobic confines of Minnie’s Haberdashery, a remote outpost on the way to a frontier town called Red Rock, for the remainder of this suspense-filled yarn that runs three hours and seven minutes; among other things that makes for some very revealing close-ups.
The set-up for what is Tarantino’s eighth feature since 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs” is easily explained: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) ends up hitching a ride with fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Ruth’s nasty fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who will fetch a hefty reward when he turns her in for trial and almost certain hanging at Red Rock. They also pick up an unapologetic remnant of the former Confederacy called Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who says he’s the town’s new sheriff.
An ever-worsening winter storm forces them to take shelter at Minnie’s, where the hostess isn’t present but four others are – former Confederate general Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), a cool cattle-hand named Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), British hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) and temporary store caretaker Bob (Demián Bichir). From there a story featuring plenty of mayhem, mystery and revenge unfolds with more than a few surprises lurking just out of sight.
I mentioned Christie earlier because the storyline reminds me of the same pinned-in-with-the-killer quality of her “And Then There Were None,” which from the 1945 film to now has had quite an on-camera life and coincidentally began as a novel that used a word very familiar to Tarantino in its original title.
While it’s true this film and “Django Unchained” unquestionably bow to the Spaghetti Western altar – “Hateful Eight” even boasts some wonderful dread-filled musical scoring by Ennio Morricone to give it Sergio Leone-era props – there is no tight-lipped Clint Eastwood type in this movie. Tarantino made this film after the generally positive response to a staged reading of an earlier version of the script; even his biggest fans know he loves the sound of his own words, and to be fair they are mighty melodious (in an often malevolent way) as spoken by the fine cast he’s assembled.
That is critical, of course, because a 101-minute first act and an intermission the second act (complete with narration by the director-writer himself and some flashbacks typical in his storytelling) is just shy of an hour-and-a-half. It is true, though, that even with the verbosity and claustrophobic setting things never get dull; in fact, only Madsen seems to be in another movie, but he’s what passes for the most laconic part in the film so maybe that’s why his performance doesn’t pique the interest created by other characterizations.
Jackson gets a very complex role complete with one heck of a monologue involving a member of Smithers’ family that’s incredible to watch (but not for those with faint hearts or easily-offended natures). Russell chews his part like a satisfying piece of beef jerky, reminding us of the talents that have allowed him to sustain a movie career for more than 50 years even as he gives an admittedly hammy (though appropriate) performance. Roth and Dern are great character actors who certainly do nothing to tarnish the well-deserved respect they get from audiences, critics and other actors; Bichir and Goggins provide strong contributions. And Leigh, well, she long ago proved she can be anyone she wants to be and her chameleon-like skills are put to great use in this film.
Production designer Yohei Taneda‘s set for Minnie’s and costume designer Courtney Hoffman‘s detailed period work are also worth noting; everything in the movie looks authentic, and given the down-to-the-pores qualities of Ultra Panavision 70 that’s essential.
I doubt that such an acquired taste as “The Hateful Eight” will bring the big box office returns of “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained” – about $321 million and $425 million worldwide respectively – but for Tarantino’s fervent fans, as well as some film buffs who love 70mm, this movie will likely offer an entertaining homage to film styles and technology from another time. As I said earlier, it’s never dull, and in this age of nanosecond attention spans that is rather remarkable in itself.
“The Hateful Eight” opens Christmas Day in 70mm format at the Carmike Thoroughbred 20 (633 Frazier Dr.) in Franklin (there is a 6 p.m. Thursday show incidentally) before opening wide in digital format around Nashville and elsewhere on Dec. 31; click here to buy tickets online. The film is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America’s Classification and Rating Administration “for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity” and runs 187 minutes.