There’s a bit of a shock halfway thru the latest Quentin Tarantino pic. Not the sudden spasm of delayed violence that finally breaches the film’s smooth surface. Nope. The shock comes in noticing, after more than an hour’s running time, that he’s been setting up no more & no less than a ginned-up, ultra-violent Western variant on AND THEN THERE WERE NONE/’45, the old Agatha Christie chestnut about ten interrelated people killing each other off on an isolated island.* (Known in book form as TEN LITTLE INDIANS, the original title was TEN LITTLE NIGGERS, a bit of trivia almost certainly known, and used as a private joke, by Tarantino who seems addicted to ‘the N word.’) Shot in the glamorous, financially prohibitive, Ultra-Panavision 70 format (a 65mm process that adds a small anamorphic squeeze to gain its extra-wide frame ratio), it’s quite the self-indulgent choice for what is basically a chamber piece with a single set. (Everything on the outside is window dressing.) There’s really little to do except watch the plot traps and ‘reveals’ close in on the characters. Tarantino 'performs' the Hercule Poirot detective function himself as writer/director using a non-linear flashback sequence to clarify his elaborate (not to say idiotic) set up. And what a bunch of hoary cliches these characters are! Sadistic bounty hunters, vicious criminals out to free relatives from their up-coming ‘neck-tie party,’ happy-go-lucky store keepers who ain’t so lucky, an aging, taciturn Civil War general . . . the works. Walter Goggins (on a career role these days) is fine company as a freshly hired sheriff, and Samuel L. Jackson happily takes charge in the story’s faux ending. (Would that it were the real ending.) No one else brings anything fresh to the table (poor Tim Roth is forced into aping Christoph Waltz and Jennifer Jason Leign whines under a pound of gory makeup), certainly not Tarantino who’s running on fumes here. Something audiences noted, giving the film a Stateside gross well under a third of what DJANGO UNCHAINED/’12 earned.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: To see a stark contrast between stormy exteriors and calm yet threatening interiors realized by an artist (instead of an artist manqué) try Béla Tarr’s stunning THE TURIN HORSE/’11. (WARNING: Ultra-patience required.)
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with basing a Western on a literary classic. John Ford always said STAGECOACH/’39 was based on Guy de Maupassant’s short story BOULE DE SUIF.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Tarantino's favorite part of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS/’09 is reputed to be that painfully over-extended rathskeller talk-fest as undercover agents meet under Nazi noses. HATEFUL feels like more (much more) of the same.