— by Jeff Schultz
The title of course nods its Stetson toward THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, which, being a sweeping Western with an ensemble cast, it resembles. [Sidebar thought: the phrase “The 8th Film by Quentin Tarantino” works fine in marketing and promotion — but to place it at the top of the credits (instead of the standard “A Film by Quentin Tarantino”) raises the bar for Hollywood self-adulation.] Anyway, back in 1960 when MAGNIFICENT was released, the Production Code was dying, but there were still strictures on gunplay. That came to mind during perhaps the most extreme moment in EIGHT — a point-blank shotgun blast to the face. Pulp fiction, indeed. Tarantino used to shock us with the suddenness of violence and its scary ugliness. Michael Madsen in RESERVOIR DOGS, Christoph Waltz in INGLOURIUS BASTERDS. But with DJANGO UNCHAINED and now here (really, the two are companion pieces) the violence is more like ballet. The aforementioned blast to the face doesn’t have the oh-my-god-i-can’t-believe-that-just-happened!! feel of, say, the gun going off accidentally in the back of the car in PULP FICTION. Here, it’s walked up to slowly, making sure we know we’re going to see someone’s brains blown away. To me, not as effective. But three quarters of the movie is lead-up, and you’re hooked. Much of it plays out in two confined spaces — a stagecoach and then a general store where these blizzard-trapped hateful people are all understandably wary of one another. The screenplay is terrific; if your fear is that two hours of talk would be talky, forget it. The lines are great, and the dream of a cast delivers to a man — and woman: Jennifer Jason Leigh we hardly knew ya! As the handcuffed bounty bound for the noose, she acts like she deserves to hang, and you love her for it. Singling out two others: if “larger than life” means anything, it’s Kurt Russell. He’s the Jeff Bridges of his (and, well I guess Jeff’s) generation. Rules the screen. And Walton Goggins, mostly from tv, rocks his racist role. Goggins is also half the reason why the movie ends up (in a way) like DJANGO, with a faint dusting of civics by way of a lecture on race relations. A movie this dependent on close interactions in even closer spaces demands that the editor be credited: killer job, Fred Raskin. As for the 70mm, we get the expected gorgeous sweeping vistas when the movie is outdoors. But how amazing is DP Robert Richardson for also being able to fill up his giant screen with those two smallish spaces, the stagecoach and the general store, and still create the sense of claustrophobic dread that gives so much of this movie its spark.