Quentin Tarantino is a genius. I don’t care if it sounds cliche or like I’m a hipster or whatever or anything like that. This is his eighth film and I have enjoyed the previous seven films as well with most of them being great-outstanding. Tarantino can never be accused of being someone who kowtows to studio pressure or that he ever lets anything get in the way of his creative vision. Most actors who have worked with QT have touted about his awesome work ethic and how wonderfully well he works with actors and the creative freedoms he gives them. So is his latest film up to snuff?
Yes. And then some. Tarantino loves spaghetti westerns and this one had elements of that genre but it is also a film that takes place in a restrictive location that constantly envelops the viewer with a sense of claustrophobia and paranoia. In fact, it reminded me of a larger-budget Reservoir Dogs in that manner as it mostly focused on characters within this small haberdashery trying to survive alongside each other while a raging blizzard occurs just outside of the building. What is most interesting and engrossing here is that you never know what to expect with Quentin’s films: who is aligned with who? What is everyone’s motivation? In Quentin’s films no one is off-limits in terms of their mortality so you can almost never predict what will occur in them.
The acting, much like other Tarantino films, is simply phenomenal. Samuel L. Jackson is very dependable whenever you need a badass lead and here he proves that he can act as well. The man is steadfast in his views and has several unlikeable qualities but yet I found myself rooting for him during most of the film. Kurt Russell, who I am honestly surprised about his lack of nomination, is also very good as the man holding a prisoner who he keeps by his side the entire time. Russell is paranoid about everyone’s motivations because he holds $10,000 at his side (a lot of money during the time of Lincoln) and he does a great job at being a very boisterous and assertive character. The rest of the cast is filled out with some strong supporting performances from Tim Roth (who reminded me of Christoph Waltz in this film), Michael Madsen (always dependable), and Bruce Dern (who has gotten a bit of a welcome career resurgence as of late).
The acting highlight of the film though is Jennifer Jason Leigh. It seems that every film has Quentin taking a brand-new star (to him) and making them churn out the best performance. He did it last time with Leo, famously with John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, and Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs. Leigh is brash, crass, rude, and yet there is an element to her personality that is so elusive that it makes her a character that both repulses and intrigues us at the same time. I found myself feeling for her during scenes where she would be physically abused but then revolted by some of her other mannerisms. She deserves an Oscar (or at least a nomination) and I hope she receives one this year.
I adore Quentin’s style of his films acting like books but this also felt like a play. There is one main location and a couple of others, the dialogue is long-winded in many places (not a bad thing), and even the staging and blocking feels very similar to a stage performance. Also, there is a bit of voice-over narration by Quentin himself (which I will gladly take over his sometimes-wooden acting) that manages to inform at the same time as it made me laugh.
Tremendous film and an awesome way to start the year.
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)