by Philip Price
At this point in his career writer/director Quentin Tarantino runs the risk of being a parody of himself. Playing up the most obvious and popular aspects of the kinds of films he tends to make his latest, “The Hateful Eight,” tends to skirt that line more than a few times, but dammit if overall this is an experience like no other. What is being said? What is the objective? What is the point, if you will, of collecting eight or more disparate souls in a single confined space and allowing them to exhaust each of their personal vendettas against the world on one another? It would seem Tarantino would need to have some type of idea or some larger theme he intends to tackle when setting out to write a project that concerns the relations of a variety of characters shortly after the end of the Civil War. As with his two previous efforts that have addressed history and its inconsistencies in equality, “The Hateful Eight” looks to bring up old wounds and address them freely. Unlike his previous two efforts though, “The Hateful Eight” is not a revenge tale in the larger sense of the genre, but more it is a contained mystery that asks whodunit and has the audience play a guessing game as it holds the answers just out of arms reach until the inevitable bloody end. Of course, the similarities to playing a game of Clue don't detract from the quality of the film as Tarantino goes back to more fully relying on what made his initial films all the more engaging and distinct: the talking. At 10 minutes shy of three hours, “The Hateful Eight” is certainly something of a journey, but it never feels like an endeavor. More, the film is an exercise in detailing a portrait of this point in time and the varying perspectives that contributed to the climate of America. By confining these eight very different, very volatile individuals into a single location Tarantino is able to make many statements, but mainly the guy seems to offer the idea that the state this country was founded on and how it came to fruition after we finished fighting ourselves is that of an unstable one-with qualities seeming to still echo into today's society.
Per usual, Tarantino has divided his story into chapters. This time we have a total of six and each are told in chronological order with the exception of chapter five. Set eight or nine years after the end of the Civil War in a winter warped Wyoming during the middle of a blizzard we first come in contact with infamous bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) who has become stranded in the blizzard. When a stagecoach carrying bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive captive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) comes across the stranded Major they exchange pleasantries before Ruth consents to give Warren a ride. Both attempting to make it to the town of Red Rock to claim their rewards, the men recognize the fact they won't beat the blizzard. Ruth's driver O.B. (Tarantino regular James Parks) then makes his way to Minnie's Haberdashery where his passengers might take refuge. Before they complete this leg of their journey though, the stagecoach once again encounters a lost soul looking for a ride into Red Rock. This time, that soul is in the form of racist Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who claims to be the new Sheriff of Red Rock. Upon arrival Ruth, Domergue and Warren are greeted by unfamiliar faces: first there is Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir), who claims to be taking care of the place while Minnie is gone; next there is Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a British man who also claims to be the hangman of Red Rock which in turn makes him and Ruth something of business partners, then there is Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a man who claims to be a cow puncher, and finally there is Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), who's made his way to Wyoming to find the resting place of his oldest son. As the storm overtakes the mountainside, these eight strangers come to learn more about one another than they initially bargained for revealing layers of distrust and coincidences that may not actually be such.
It is through each of these characters that Tarantino intends to both provoke the bigger ideas he is playing with while at the same time delivering the traditional or expected types that populate a Western. As the closest thing to the lead of the film, and easily the most charismatic character on screen Sam Jackson is also seemingly intended to be the hero of our piece. After all, if you've been paying attention to the news lately you've seen that Tarantino himself displays a passion for the mistreatment of African Americans in our present culture and the placing of the sole black man in the hero’s slot clearly identifies the statement the writer/director wants to speak on. As Major Warren, Jackson is superb. As a frequent collaborator of Tarantino's, Jackson can handle the director's dialogue like no one else and he discharges each line here as if coming from a position of both defense and entitlement. Of course, at that point in time African Americans were certainly entitled to more than just fair treatment, but Jackson's Major Warren was a celebrated war hero, a soldier for the Union thus making his entitlement all the more inciting to the likes of Mannix and General Smithers. In the landscape of how these characters represent the beginnings of America's still lingering issues Warren is the black man who is still discriminated against despite his accomplishments, Mannix is the privileged white boy who is given a position of power based on nothing more than lineage, Smithers is the crotchety old man no one can stop from spouting racist remarks, and Domergue is the portrait of the woman. While others such as Russell's Ruth is the traditional hero of such a genre piece (Russell's performance is fine, but his character is the least interesting in this scenario), the likes of Bichir and Roth simply exist to symbolize the position of those south of the border and those across the pond at this point in time. Madsen's Gage is the most interesting of these outliers as he seemingly stands to be the middle class. The innocent party simply looking to make an honest living and go on about their business, but who somehow became wrapped up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Without going into spoilers, it is interesting the fate of these characters as one could see the analogy essentially fall apart, or to go further, it could be seen as a greater statement of America's own ignorance despite the consistent hints from those we believe to be allies.
The portrait of the woman is both the most intriguing and the most mysterious-no doubt the former because of the latter-in the film. Though it becomes unclear what exactly Tarantino is trying to say by the end of his exercise in the sadistic is unclear that Leigh as Domergue serves to be the catalyst of the events that unfold at Minnie's Haberdashery while speaking the least of all her counterparts makes the director's point all the more apparent. While the fact we learn most of what we do about Domergue from the mouth of Ruth and that Ruth, the keeper of her fate, doles out what he sees as necessary punishment when she gets out of line is a comparison that undoubtedly (and unfortunately) hues close to many a modern woman's experiences in their professional and likely even personal lives. As Domergue, Leigh makes the outlaw as vile and unforgiving as she possibly can and yet we as an audience are attracted to her. She, along with the rest of the cast, use the N-word abundantly and it's made clear she deserves the fate she's headed toward as well as every black eye and any other form of mistreatment she receives along the way, and yet there is something about her, something we can't necessarily glimpse, something maybe we're not meant to understand that gives way to this attraction to the character. The image of Domergue late in the film, her face soaked in blood as if a nineteenth century Carrie, paints a fuller portrait of everything she's been through and had to put with in order make her mark-not all of it being pretty. Whilst Warren is the presumed hero of the story and Domergue the villain, Tarantino is clearly keen on charting both of these opposing arcs through the white men standing between them while not so subtly hinting that these truths are still relevant today.
As a piece of entertainment, “The Hateful Eight” is appallingly charming in that it's hard to not want to remain enclosed with these bastards for as much time as we do, but even so the film tends to go on for a touch too long-especially in its final two chapters. Goggins as Mannix is especially fun to watch despite his horrible disposition on things in general. Every ironic line that is meant to be un-ironic is tinged with just enough humor to make the character endearing while never letting on to whether we, as an audience, can actually trust or believe a word that comes out of his mouth. There is a running gag with the door to Minnie's Haberdashery that is genuinely hilarious and plenty of dialogue throughout that I wanted to write down and log away based simply on the ingenious quality of the way Tarantino worded certain expressions. And while I generally loved the film and all that occurred, all that was said, and the idea of using as wide a frame as possible to tell such an intimate story my mind kept coming back around to the objective-the point of it all. Tarantino opens with an extended shot of a crucifix. Being Catholic, I know the crucifix to be a symbol of sacrifice, one that is a constant reminder that death was accepted by one individual so that we may be allowed to live. It would be too simple and obvious to draw a comparison between this symbol and the main theme of “The Hateful Eight,” but maybe that's just what Tarantino is saying in the broader sense of his convoluted metaphor: if we all sacrifice something, maybe even the slightest bit of our ego, everyone else-especially those still treated with prejudice (whether in race, gender, or class)-might be able to live a little more.
by Philip Price
“The Other Guys” is a brilliant piece of satire that really gave way for director Adam McKay to go in the direction of crafting something like “The Big Short.” “The Other Guys” was also helped by the oddball pairing of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg who proved to have almost as much chemistry as Ferrell and John C. Reilly. So, it was natural for the two to want to reunite given their past success, but “The Other Guys,” “Daddy's Home” is not. This was clear from the beginning. Whereas “The Other Guys” felt like a film, an actual, real, weighted film with an objective and a structure that felt inspired without being standard, “Daddy's Home” feels like a rushed job of a couple of funny men getting together and seeing what they can hammer out. “Daddy's Home” is a movie and one that has seemingly been dropped off the Hollywood assembly line in hopes that it will appeal to enough people to make its money back on the broad appeal of Ferrell and Wahlberg. There is nothing particularly insightful about the picture, there isn't even anything particularly funny to the point I'll remember it tomorrow, and the product placement is so abhorrently obvious the whole thing might as well be a commercial, but beyond these heavy complaints lies a movie that still stars the likes of Ferrell and Wahlberg. Both are very likable guys with a supporting cast that includes the always-pleasant Linda Cardellini, the outrageous Thomas Haden Church, a surprisingly funny extended piece enlivened by Hannibal Burress and, of course, a couple of cute kids saying inappropriate things. Given these factors, despite the subpar script and despite the fact the film has little to no visual flair, “Daddy's Home” comes out the other end being rather enjoyable for what it is. It is a movie one can put on in the background and still keep up with if the need to do other things arises while at the same time guaranteeing a couple of chuckles from friends or family that might also be in the vicinity. “Daddy's Home” goes a long way on the charm of its cast, making the product as a whole more endearing than it appears on first glance.
We are first introduced to Brad Whitaker (Ferrell) as the epitome of the suburbanite dad, only he isn’t exactly all he appears to be. You see, Brad is unable to have children due to an unfortunate x-ray machine accident at the dentist office a few years back, but lucky for him he’s found a woman who is way out of his league, Sara (Cardellini), who just so happens to have two children and has been looking for a safe bet like Brad. All is seemingly well in Brad and Sara’s picturesque Louisiana life sans the fact Sara’s children, Megan (Scarlett Estevez) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro), still haven’t taken all that well to the new man in their life. Of course, just as Brad begins to make strides with his new step-children though, their biological father comes back into the picture. The complete opposite of Brad, Dusty Mayron (Wahlberg) is the kind of guy that rides a motorcycle and wears Affliction shirts with the necessary leather jacket to go along with it. Coming in with zero respect for his square of a replacement Dusty quickly jumps into action in devising a way to weasel his way into the comfortable family setting Brad has set up while simultaneously forcing Brad to the curb. Naturally, this leads to something of a competition between Brad and Dusty as the two begin going back and forth to not only impress the children, but one another. In many ways, Brad is seeking Dusty’s approval as much as he is seeking Megan and Dylan’s. That Dusty seems to dominate Brad in every aspect of manhood doesn’t ease the tension so by the time the third act of the film comes around, things are brought to a head in this dad vs. step-dad battle for the ages.
Like most Ferrell comedies, “Daddy’s Home” lampoons its own position on things while highlighting what it’s criticizing. Ultimately, the film of course ends up taking the high road, showing it as the admirable thing to do and thus making the underdog character the actual hero of the piece. Dusty, on the other hand, is an overcompensation of a character. He is a compilation of different ideas of what was once thought to be cool while clearly constructed to make the point that being responsible pays off in the long run while being uber-charismatic and mooching off those incapable of standing up for themselves will run its course eventually. Although the likelihood of this is doubtful in most cases, “Daddy’s Home” at least attempts to make some sort of statement. Of course, Wahlberg as well as writers Brian Burns and director Sean Anders understand the pompous ridiculousness of their character and so they play these aspects to the max making the comedy more exaggerated and the mind games between he and Brad all the more outrageous. While the movie is supposed to be about the competing affections of these young and impressionable children, it more or less becomes a competition of who can outdo who in terms of impressing the children. Dusty shows up with the intention of taking his family back despite having been gone long enough for Sara to meet, be engaged to, and marry Brad (not to mention enough time for them to buy a house and set up a nice, comfortable suburban routine). Given Dusty’s overall facade and strangely strong ability to connive, trick, and generally play mind games with Brad the chemistry between the two is made all the more palpable as Ferrell’s Brad plays humbly into Dusty’s games. This is the most winning aspect of the film as Ferrell and Wahlberg bounce off one another with ease and create enough tension so that they might once again cut through it with another joke.
What is detrimental to “Daddy’s Home” is that it approaches its premise with as straight-forward an approach as Brad approaches his traditional family. There are hardly any layers to the film-there are no grandparents from either side that complicate the new dynamic of Brad and Sara or even to also become fascinated with Dusty’s antics. There are certainly a number of possibilities that a more invested script would have delved in to, but the only layers “Daddy’s Home” cares to add are the necessary boss to Brad at the smooth jazz station called “The Panda” in which he works, as played by Church, and a repair man who becomes a permanent fixture in Burress. While Church has a pretty solid running joke of inappropriate and outlandish stories that don’t pertain to Brad’s issues the bigger joke is more in the fact Brad sustains a comfortable living by working at a smooth jazz station. There is one particular scene in which Wahlberg’s Dusty makes an impression on Church’s Leo as he and Brad search for the new “voice” of The Panda. Dusty gives his rendition of the station’s jingle and wins over everyone in the room in a fashion where it’s clear Wahlberg isn’t the one singing, but that the film embraces the joke so much makes one wish it would do so more consistently. That said, the film does contain a more consistent stream of laughs than I initially expected and none of it feels as forced as it did in the trailers. It does hurt that the trailers gave away the films big finish at the basketball game, but the films second ending has a nice culmination of circumstances that will bring, at the very least, a smirk to your face. The movie is good about setting jokes up early and paying them off throughout as well as it is at playing with expectations, playing down the nonsense of dramatic movie moments, and cutting through any sentimental territory with more jokes. No, “Daddy’s Home” isn’t on par with any of Ferrell and McKay’s comedies, but it’s perfectly acceptable for what it intends to be in that it made me laugh more than I expected and that it once again proves John Cena’s comedic worth doesn’t hurt either.