The last film to be shot in 70mm, which I watched, was Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2011). I didn’t see much of the point for that film to be shot in 70mm either but at least Anderson came back with more impressive images. By comparison, Tarantino’s images feel so small, despite looking at times so wide. I suppose in the end it comes down to not being interested in what’s going on in the frame, but even films that were partially shot in 70mm like the recent works of Terence Malick and Christopher Nolan had greater ambitions than Tarantino had here.
This is the 8th film by Quentin Tarantino and he has called it a western. Despite being a slavery yarn, his previous film Django Unchained was also considered a western. Unlike Django, this film has no character for whom one can root, sympathize or empathize. Some have compared this film to Tarantino’s first film Reservoir Dogs (1992), which is a very apt comparison but again, unlike Reservoir, this film has no character for whom one can root, sympathize or empathize.
The movie lives up to its name. Each character is hateful, despicable or just no good in some way. The possible exception would be the character played by Tarantino’s most utilized black actor.
Samuel L. Jackson stars as Major Marquis Warren, a bounty hunter who used to be in the U.S. Army and fought in the American Civil War. Kurt Russell co-stars as John Ruth, a fellow bounty hunter who looks and occasionally acts like Yosemite Sam. Jennifer Jason Leigh also co-stars as Daisy Domergue, the criminal under John’s control and abuse. Walton Goggins co-stars too as Chris Mannix, the sheriff of Red Rock, Wyoming. He actually hasn’t been sworn in yet. He’s also a former Confederate soldier. All four are on their way to Red Rock.
All are racist. All are awful and pretty disgusting. Top of the list is Daisy who is in the running to be the worst of the characters in this piece. Leigh’s performance is fierce though. Goggins who delivered an incredible performance in the TV series The Shield also delivers a knockout or hits a home-run here. One goes back and forth with his character, as Tarantino plays his racism and hatefulness for laughs mostly, but he undeniably commands the screen in this film’s initial and even its final moments.
The other four actors who constitute the rest of the titular, octagonal group include Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Demián Bichir and Michael Madsen. Each does a good job in their, respective, stereotypical roles. Dern is the old dude. Roth is the British dude. Bichir is the Mexican and Madsen is Madsen. All are playing to type, while jazzing it up a little.
Yet, the racism isn’t jazzed up a little. It’s jazzed up a lot. Given the time period, it makes sense, but Tarantino goes overboard, particularly with the use of the N-word. It’s used here to excessive amount, which is probably the point. It’s Tarantino’s humor but also his defiance to those who criticize him for the N-word usage. This is him instead doubling-down.
With the ending though, Tarantino is trying to say something about race relations. I’m not sure what that is. The very final shot reminded me of the very final shot of Glory (1989). It speaks of something when two racially-opposed characters decide to die together or in fact die helping each other. How Glory gets there is vastly better than how this film gets there.
Here, we get a lame and really unnecessary murder mystery where Samuel Jackson gets to have a “Jessica Fletcher” or “Columbo” moment. The film hints at an ending that could have been as great as the ending to 3:10 to Yuma (2007) but Tarantino keeps us locked in that dank, one location where the only amusement comes from how much blood he can spill or splatter all over the floor and all over his actors.
Speaking of which, Channing Tatum has a small role here. Of all the actors, he’s the one who least fits in Tarantino’s world. Tatum remains not a good actor. Tarantino seems able to coax good performances out of actors, but with Tatum he’s perhaps hit a brick wall. Tatum is able to coast in other films on his physicality or the good will of someone else’s humor, but all of that is lost here. Tatum ends up only being distracting and took me even further out the movie.
One Star out of Five.
Rated R for strong bloody violence, violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.
Running Time: 3 hrs. and 7 mins.