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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

THE HATEFUL EIGHT: Jennifer Jason Leigh Becomes the New Inglorious Woman in the Tarantino Universe



When Quentin Tarantino gave us badass Uma Thurman in Kill Bill back in 2003, I wanted to be her--despite the fact that her character was jumped by several different people, while pregnant. It was like I was seeing Thurman for the first time ever, reincarnated as a vicious biker babe in yellow leather and black pinstripe. The uniform of a champion.

It's often been said that being in a Tarantino film was like career viagra (John Travolta should still be thanking him for Pulp Fiction), yet he should also get some credit for creating some of the most unforgettable women characters in modern cinema--from Patricia Arquette in Modern Romance to Salma Hayek in From Dusk 'Til Dawn and Mélanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds. This year, he gives us Jennifer Jason Leigh in THE HATEFUL EIGHT. And oddly enough, she might be the least badass of them all. But she is definely memorable.

That isn't to say that Daisy Domergue (Leigh) isn't an amazing Tarantino character. Actually, she's quite the paradox; part despicable villainess and part perpetual victim. And you're never quite certain whether you should be rooting for her or scared of her. Like most Tarantino characters, she doesn't have much of a back story, and really, most everything we ever will learn about her character is in her first scene--sitting in a horse-carriage handcuffed to her bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kirk Russell). A female killer who's become somewhat of a heroine in the maniac industry, Daisy appears to get off on John's sporadic bursts of violence against her--despite suffering a broken nose and a black eye. Or maybe she's amused by John's lack of power over her (her devious smirk seems to suggest that she's got something up her sleeve).

It's a rather perverse introduction that incites a number of questions from the audience: Are John and Daisy actually a couple? Are their roles actually the opposite from what they say, where Daisy is the bounty hunter? Is Daisy actually insane? (Her mild reaction to her abuse is disturbing, at best). Leigh, mostly known for her dark yet quieter performances in movies such as Dolores Claiborne, Single White Female and The Machinist, here is often the loudest person in the room with the fewest lines. That's partly because she's attached to John, who instantly takes command of any room he's in, but also because the mystery surrounding her is unsettling--so you don't want to take your eyes off her.

But Daisy is just one deranged character in an even sketchier bunch that includes Samuel L. Jackson
as Major Marquis Warren, Walton Goggins as Sheriff Chris Mannix--two of the eight souls stranded in the middle of a snowstorm in post-Civil War Wyoming. These four stumble upon a cabin where they meet another group of four (played by Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir, and Michael Madsen), which is right around the time the s**t hits the fan for each of them. The octet, along with handy O.B. Jackson (James Parks), is confined in a space where each of their motives have nowhere to hide.

In THE HATEFUL EIGHT, Tarantino creates an uncomfortably claustrophobic atmosphere that borrows from both The Defiant Ones and 12 Angry Men in its narrative and character structure, yet spirals into a Tarantino-esque mystery--complete with time shifts, riddled dialogue, and lots 'o blood. While it's not his best film (it's far too long and indulgent at times), Tarantino absorbs the audience into a scene, compelling you to look at each and every inch of it--indicative of many vintage films (his usual film playground). But as the film is shown in 70mm, it forces you to go cockeyed trying to take everything in.

Coming in at a whopping 3 hours, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a wicked and entertaining western with a great score even if it is a bit of a Tarantino cornucopia.

Rating: B+ (**** out of *****)

THE HATEFUL EIGHT opens in 70mm on December 25, with a nationwide theatrical release on December 31.

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