What better way to ring in the new year than by watching the heavily bearded faces of some of my favorite actors spew filthy invective at each other and suffer grotesque and horrifying bodily injury? None! There is no better way.
[Full Disclosure – I didn’t actually see both in the same day, but I saw them within a week of each other. I think had I really done a double feature of both I would have overdosed on ruggedness, run away to the mountains, and started some kind of feral colony. Anyway, on with the reviews! ]
NOTE: There Will Be Spoilers!
The Hateful Eight
When watching a Quentin Tarantino film, you may find yourself asking the following questions:
- Is there copious violence?
- Are there long, winding dialogues that border on conversational opera?
- Is there constant and continual foul language woven into that dialogue?
- Is there some fascinating angle on American history being approached that has made you reexamine your understanding of a time period?
- Is the N-word being used?
- Are there drugs?
- Is there booze?
- Awesome music and masterful use of it to set up themes or conflicts?
- Do you feel like you have been somewhere and done something, whether you enjoyed the trip or not?
You will not answer Yes to all these questions in ALL Quentin Tarantino movies, but you will answer Yes to most of them, most of the time. That said, I am not implying Tarantino is formulaic. That would be reductive. Great artists are known for exploring and exhibiting recurrent tropes or themes in their work, and QT is no exception.
Was Hateful 8 a QT movie? Yes. Did it deliver on all those things he is known for? Yes – and then some! Would it make fans of Non-QT fans? Maybe! Of all his movies, this is one of the best that recaptures the more artistic and elevated of the spaghetti westerns, like Once Upon a Time in the West, but still felt like a modern tale. Beautiful camera work, tight, terse performances, a fascinating setting – it’s all there amid a challenging and totally engaging plot.
It also unpacked a lot of current social conflicts by recognizing the problematic aspects that many freed slaves and people of color faced in the post-Emancipation U.S. People were free to move around and marry as they liked, but they were still largely treated as ‘other’ within a country they never asked to be part of.
Samuel L. Jackson deserved an Oscar nomination for his performance. My GOD, can he carry a scene.
I will agree that Alejandro Inarritu should win the Oscar for direction for this film. The difficult shoot,* the even more difficult subject matter, and working with some notoriously difficult stars and he still managed to make something beautiful out of something hideously grotesque. But really, what I had a problem with was the story.
For one thing, this movie is based on a true story, and it’s difficult to show some of the insane things that happen in that story and convince an audience they really happened. Hugh Glass was a real person whose life story is packed with prime, jaw-dropping, ‘NO WAY’ moments. He really was mauled by a bear to the point where his leg was broken and his ribs were sticking out, he really was abandoned without weapons or supplies in the middle of Nowhere, Frozen Wastelandia, and he really did patch himself up with stuff he found and crawled 200 miles to assistance. I say ‘assistance’ but I mean really, what could they have done when he showed up? Did you read the article? Read the article. He had a massive open wound in his back so he let maggots eat the dead flesh to prevent gangrene and some friendly Native Americans sewed a piece of bearhide to his back to keep his innards covered. What could the dudes at the fort have given him that he couldn’t have made himself with birdbones and mushrooms?
I don’t recall much of that self-maintenance in the movie. The movie just felt like a string of terrible things happening and Hugh Glass reacting to them. I might need to see the opening again, but I don’t recall anything setting up Glass’s knowhow in the opening scene. He was referred to as a tracker or the guide, but other than that he just seemed to be another dude in the fur trader group.
Fun fact: the Wikipedia page makes no mention of a son, and I hope that the writers didn’t add that. It was entirely unnecessary. I didn’t need a ‘I must avenge my son’ story in the least. This was an era where people said things like ‘I’m gonna get that dirty sumbitch that beat me half to death with a tomahawk and leff me for dead in the middle of Death Valley.’ People didn’t need much reason to spend the freezing night inside a dead horse or walk 200 miles on a broken leg. For some people, that was just ‘Tuesday.’
Additionally, I thought what happened to the solitary Pawnee (the guy who saved Glass and built him a little sweatlodge) was gratuitous and unnecessary – it completely took me out of the movie and reminded me ‘Oh right, this is still a Hollywood movie so of course the peaceful Native American has to die.’ There was no reason to kill him, other than to take the French traders from ‘shitty people’ to ‘cartoonishly villainous.’
For all my dumb armchair-filmmaker complaints, The Revenant really was a beautiful film. The visuals alone are worth the price of admission, especially on the big screen. I’ve never traveled out west but I felt like I was there when those sweeping vistas opened up under the unending sky.
I think Tom Hardy ought to win that Oscar. His Fitzgerald was a much more compelling and interesting character – here’s a man who’s had half his head skinned and has nothing to live for but who is fiercely determined to survive. He’s a villain yes, but he’s also a walking lesson in the ugly side of American history. He stayed behind with Glass for the money, but he had no guarantee he’d survive to get it. All he has is the Captain’s promise to pay. I’m not trying to make him out to be a hero, but I’m pretty sure he had an idea of the agony Glass was in and how hopeless the situation seemed. He’s a man whose lost hope but who’s bound and determined to see the whole thing through anyway. It’s all well and good to shout ‘Never give up! There’s always hope!’ but this is a character for whom all hope was lost long ago – and here we have the film’s name.
Who’s the real ghost here? The man who rose from the grave, or the soulless man who put him there in the first place?
Despite all my nitpicking I REALLY enjoyed The Revenant and it is most deserving of high acclaim. It’ll win some things I’m sure, but I’m curious to see what.
Have a great week!
*But he still has nothing on the all-time, Heavyweight Champion of Difficult Film Shoots, Werner Herzog’s filming of Fitzcarraldo. Watch the documentary. Be amazed.