I watched Reservoir Dogs on VHS tape, late at night. I was at party and someone asked if I had seen it yet. “No,” I said. It was one of those “You’ve got to see this” moments. And, the people who showed it to me were right. I really did need to see it.
Fifteen minutes in, I thought, “Holy crap, this is a Richard Stark novel… except Parker would never take this job.” I watched the “Caper Movie Where You Never See the Caper” and felt the delight build in my belly. I loved every minute of it. Watching it was like reading a Stark novel: no bullshit. Like Elmore Leonard advises: “Leave out the parts that readers skip.” That’s exactly what this movie did. Trim, immediate… Stark.
Tarantino turned me into a fan in just one hour and thirty-nine minutes. Eh, screw that. I was a fan after fifteen minutes.
His follow up, Pulp Fiction, added an element that made me even more of a fan. The colorful dialogue, the tight plotting, the non-sequential chapters… a Stark novel. But if Pulp Fiction were a painting, Tarantino added a single brush stroke of magic. Just a single brush stroke. I like to call PF a work of “magical realism.” And that was enough to make me interested in just about everything he would do after that point. I’d see anything he directed.
Last night, I saw The Hateful Eight. Invited The Legend Jessie Foster with me, also a fan. We sat down in the small theater with the big screen—we went to see the 70mm print which will be 16 minutes longer than the standard print—and we waited for the show to begin.
No trailers. No advertisements. The movie just started. The distinct musical voice of composer Ennio Morricone filling the theater. The same man who composed the music for all of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. The first time Tarantino’s ever used an original score. As if he was just biding his time, waiting for Morricone to agree to score one of his films. And, of course, it’s a western.
Over the years, Tarantino’s style has changed. I like that. He’s evolved as a film maker, keeping the original voice I liked, but expanding its vocabulary. This movie was no Reservoir Dogs. That film opens with a rapid fire tommy gun conversation and a swirling camera, almost as if Tarantino is daring you to keep up. This movie takes its time. Setting that huge 70mm lens on gorgeous landscapes as the music encourages us to sit back in our chairs and enjoy. Like a British nature documentary.
But then the stage coach comes rushing in, carrying the plot with it. And before you can say, “Royale with Cheese,” Samuel L. Jackson looks up from under a wide brim hat and says the first line of the film in his own distinctive voice.
“Got room for one more?”
Yes, there’s room for one more. Where they’re going, there’s room enough for everyone. Because they’re all going to Hell.
Tarantino himself said this film was a mix of John Carpenter’s The Thing and Reservoir Dogs. And if we are to be “critics,” we should evaluate a film on the film-maker’s intent. Did he accomplish that intent? From my own perspective, sitting in that dark theater with a small group of fellow devotees, I can tell you that we certainly believed he did.
The Hateful Eight does not have the magical realism of Pulp Fiction. Eight strangers, in a small room,surrounded by a merciless blizzard, none of whom have any reason to trust each other, all wearing guns, and sitting in the middle of that room, is a bounty worth ten thousand dollars. And someone in that room, as Kurt Russell says, “Is not who he says he is.”
Reservoir Dogs meets The Thing. There’s a reason both Sam Jackson and Kurt Russell are in this film. That, my friends, is a deliberate choice.
And as much as I feel Tarantino succeeded in that goal, I wasn’t thinking of either of those films as I watched them. I was thinking about the basement scene in Inglorious Basterds. For my money, my favorite scene in that film. The slow, agonizing build. The threat of violence boiling under deliberate politeness, wit and near comedy. Pure dread of knowing that—at any moment—everything explodes into a bloodbath.
What QT did here was take that one scene—the basement scene—and run with it for three hours.
He divided the film into two acts and the first one ends with a literal bang. Tension broken, we know what happens next.
But he gives us fifteen minutes of INTERMISSION to sit in that theater and wait for it.
That, my friends, is a man who understands how to hook an audience, hold them in the palm of his hand… and squeeze.
That’s why I’m still a fan.