The original article was written for RIFE Magazine and is available HERE. There have been a few revisions.
Two very cold, very old and very long Western movies. One still showing at the Watershed, one banned from Bristol’s Cineworld and other screens across the country. If anything, I felt that the other movie should’ve had a more limited release, given the lethargy-inducing coma it can put you in.
Let’s explore both.
The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, closing in on his self-declared promise to only put out ten movies in his career (upon being asked on the X show, he clarified that it could possibly be eleven, but at the very most it would be twelve). I’d never seen a Tarantino movie in the cinema before and resolved that this would be my first adventure.
The Revenant is a film by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, his next project after the Academy Award-winning, cinematography-breaking, revolutionary-directing effort of Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). My friend at university first informed me about his movies, particularly Amores Perros, and I later found out he was the same man behind 21 Grams and Babel. After that last effort, I had to watch this. I wish I didn’t.
Both of these men are extraordinary directors, so you can expect everything to look crisp, sharp and pretty despite the blood and violence being shown. However, that’s all that the Revenant seems to be: pretty. Otherwise, it’s pretty boring.
There are some incredible one-shot takes of action sequences, and even smaller moments (a very intense scene between Tom Hardy and a paralysed Leo, where Hardy is just waiting for Leo to blink and therefore giving him the incentive to kill him). However, as beautiful as this film is, and under the harsh conditions in which it was shot, if what is being shot feels wasted then no matter the skill or technique, I’ll admit to being directorially ignorant and say this movie deserves its place in M Shed’s Wildlife gallery more than a cinema screening (that gallery is incredible by the way, costs a fiver or less and I’m probably going again).
What makes me even more confident in saying this is the absolutely extraordinary opening shot for The Hateful Eight, also a one-shot take, made even greater with Ennio Moricone’s score building the tension underneath. Further that with an equally tense scene featuring Jennifer Jason Leigh playing the guitar whilst Tarantino makes masterful use of a camera’s ability to focus.
Before I watched the movie, I was told by a friend that I would really hate the character played by Tom Hardy. What I find irritating now is that I’ve broken through the “Was Snape just Alan Rickman, or was Alan Rickman always Snape” barrier with Tom Hardy. Growing up, I absolutely loved the love-to-hate character of Snape in the Harry Potter movies, but as I watched Alan Rickman in other films, e.g. Sweeney Todd, all I saw was Severus Snape. It took a little longer until I understood that Alan Rickman was perfect to play Snape and not that he was giving the same performance as Snape in every film. When I saw Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, I thought his performance was absolutely outstanding, given what he did with his voice and mannerisms.
After watching this movie, Lawless, and Mad Max, it’s clear that Tom Hardy was perfect for Bane because his style of performance is what was needed for that role. Aside from that, I also enjoyed watching his performance in the Revenant, but felt no emotional attachment to any of the characters involved.
Leo was also very good, whether in scenes where he was practically suffering locked-in syndrome, or his physical transformation between healthy man, mauled by bear, and man slowly recovering in order to enact revenge. But there was so little story that I felt completely detached. He even looked into the camera at the very end of the movie, why!?!? Birdman was an excellent film, but the last 10 seconds or so completely ruined it for me – why can’t Inarritu make a solid ending two years in a row?
Further to that, the casting of Domhnall Gleeson was a mystery. As a guy, Gleeson is charming and really down-to-earth, and his performance in Brooklyn was stellar. But he didn’t seem to be the right fit for this movie. I couldn’t believe he was the leader of that group of men, it seemed he was only cast for the bitter scowl that’s on his face whenever he’s on screen. Perfect for General Hux, perfect for Jim Farrell, good enough for Billy Weasley, but not here.
On the other hand, The Hateful Eight is a character-driven movie, with a plot that slowly unfolds throughout. Perhaps it was the presence of a storyline that actually made me care about what was happening on screen, particularly the performance of Jessica Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue, who has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. I’m still pulling for Rooney Mare (read why here in my Brooklyn vs Carol review) but am so happy Leigh was nominated as she was absolutely fantastic.
Equally enjoyable was her very strange abusive but almost marital relationship with ‘The Hangman’ played by Kurt Russell, who (along with his poor driver) suffered one of the most gruesome death scenes I have seen in some time. Even Tarrantino did a good job as a drop-in narrator. Sam Jackson did what Samuel Jackson does, supported by an array of archetypes (or stereotypes) from Western movie lore.
I’m still confused as to why Tim Roth is an Englishman stuck in this movie, alongside Zoe Bell who plays Six Horse Judy, a stage coach driver from New Zealand (I could not keep my eyes off her, she definitely embodied the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, gorgeous, a little bit mad, and gone all too quickly).
I can’t say that the story of the Revenant is awful when it’s essentially non-existent. What I found even more annoying is that alongside Hardy’ villainous role and the bloody merciless killings in the film, there were still a few Hollywood movie moments shoved in. Why would Domhnall Gleeson’s character not kill Will Poulter as soon as he finds out he’s lied to him about one of his closest accomplices? Why does Will Poulter allow an Indian to escape unscathed when he and Hardy scour through the village? It’s ‘nice’ that there is humanity, but it came across forced and unrealistic. I felt it would have been more authentic to those characters and the time period had those people been killed without hesitation, rather than what seemed like building tension solely for the sake of the movie’s pitiful pacing.
That doesn’t mean Tarantino had another riveting plot and story, because this too felt stretched and went on long. Given that I didn’t watch the 70mm version with an overture and an interval, the middle really does bog down and you start getting restless. However, that slow burn really does pay-off when everything starts kicking off again in the second half and it is a bizarre, absurd and horrific non-stop rollercoaster until the end.
There is a lot of cursing as expected with any Tarantino film, but here it doesn’t feel over-the-top or excessive as much as stale. It seems that’s what he wanted to do, that’s what he likes doing and he’s going to keep doing it. It seemed as the film needed to shed some of the hateful weight, be trimmed down. Then again, the film is clearly laid out in the format of a play (and was performed as one too). In the interview below, Tarantino acknowledges that, traditionally, at this time in his career as a director it would be expected that he makes a movie like Jackie Brown, signalling that he was going to go in that direction now.
On Josh Horowitz’s ‘Happy Sad Confused’ podcast (link available earlier), Domhnall Gleeson mentioned how the cast would have to rehearse as if they were performing in a play before filming their scene in one-shot using the 2 hours of ‘magical natural lighting’ that they had. Tarrantino has mentioned how he now wants to make his movie into a play and was interested in other actors taking the roles to see what they could do, but that the cast were adamant on being in any stage production (Horowitz). Can Tarantino successfully make theatre, or is Christ Plant from The Verge right when he says has Martin McDonagh already conquered this arena, and done it better than Quentin?
In summary, at least The Hateful Eight did its part to be engaging and enjoyable, even when it gets disturbing, whereas The Revenant doesn’t seem to care. I hope Leo doesn’t win the Oscar for this movie, just because it’s clearly such bait, no matter what struggles he went through as an actor. He absolutely should have won it for his performance in Wolf of Wall Street. Dallas Buyers Club deserved to win Best Picture over 12 Years A Slave and Jared Leto was a well-deserved winner for Supporting Actor and Matthew McConnaughey was fantastic, but as an award for an actor’s performance in the role, it should have absolutely gone to Leo.
Next up on the Oscar binge: Spotlight vs The Big Short. Same Rife time. Same Rife channel.