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Exploring Blood Lust and the Frigid Frontier with The Hateful Eight (2015) and The Revenant (2015)

January 11, 2016

revenant-leoLove breeds a powerful force that can change the world, unfortunately so can hate. At opposite ends of the spectrum both emotions create an energy and potential within those who choose to focus on one or other allowing great achievements to get accomplished with either power source in their corner. As Radio Raheem once taught us, love and hate are always battling each other and sometimes it looks like hate wins. Take the Kellogg brothers for instance, their bitter rivalry changed the nature of breakfast into what we know it as now. This year two films focus on the power of hate and the lengths that people go when fueled by it. Despite being two completely different tales depicted by two different directors, The Hateful Eight and The Revenant have an awful lot in common.

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When you hear Quentin Tarantino or Alejandro González Iñárritu’s name attached to any project, you can’t help but have your heart skip a beat in excitement and let out a squeal of pure delight… well at lease that’s my reaction to both men. My loving devotion to each director has been long, steady, tried, and true. Hearing their names involved in a project is like hearing the word “fried” used for a meal description, or “Beatles” attached to a song—you know it’s going to be good, even if it isn’t great. Mutually, Tarantino and Iñárritu are exceptional visual storytellers who use cinema as a means to advance the medium in unprecedented ways.

Iñárritu is known for his gripping emotional tales and fantastic visual cues that extend shots into seamless long takes with impeccable movement. Tarantino, on the other hand, focuses on language making films with heady dialogue infused into body genres that focus on the excess of blood, guts, and tears while somehow still prompting laughter. Both of these men prove they possess the ability to impress and shock viewers in their newest projects by bringing their well-known tropes to new and improved heights.

In The Hateful Eight Tarantino uses the motif of classical westerns to tell a new tale of dirty rotten scoundrels in the post-Civil War era northwest. There, a group of men and one woman find themselves stuck together in a cabin as blizzard bares down around them. Each person possesses their own journey and secret intentions, but as their paths cross they must confront each other’s backgrounds and beliefs while dealing with how these harbored opinions will affect them personally. This leads to one hell of an adventure for Marquis Warren, an African-American former Union Colonial.

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After his horse succumbs to the frigid cold of the land, Marquis must rely on the kindness of a gruff bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell), who’s apathetic to anyone except the $10,000 reward chained next to him, fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Along the way to their collective detestation, Red Rock, the group run into another stranded civilian with the same destination, Confederate militiaman Chris Mannix. The four travel through blistering cold and dangerous political conversation in a stagecoach together until they arrive at a well-known lodge called Minnie’s Haberdashery. There the story’s momentum continues to build with the inclusion of four other men all with their own tales and journeys ultimately leading to a guaranteed blood bath that takes place in the most gruesome, humorous ways possible.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Iñárritu’s brutal tale of one man’s fight for survival in the unsettled freezing wilderness of the Louisiana Purchase territory. A fur trapper by trade, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a wilderness expert helping a team of trappers collect pelt on a month’s long journey to sell. During a routine expedition their team is attacked by a clan of Native Americans who kill half of the team forcing the rest to flee and abandon their pelt and boat. The group’s only option is to trek to their destination by foot up mountains and through Native territory. But, things take a turn for the worse when Hugh is mauled by a bear requiring his men to carry him the rest of the way to the disdain of his fellow trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) whom thinks of Hugh as a traitor for having a half Native son on the trail with him. After Fitzgerald makes the decision to leave Hugh for dead, Hugh musters up the energy and courage to find Fitzgerald and seek his revenge.

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The Hateful Eight and The Revenant not only share locations of unsettled Western territory and themes of blood lust revenge, but both film’s respective directors spares no shot or sequence despite the long run time of each. Tarantino famously shot The Hateful Eight in 70mm, a high-resolution technique that if given the chance must be seen in this format. The larger picture quality stretches the film’s landscape maximizing the beauty on screen and giving the picture a grandiose quality. Snow becomes synonymous with the struggle endured by the group to make it to their destination and the quality of the picture gives the natural phenomenon a wondrous and sinister quality.

Iñárritu also uses snow to his advantage showcasing the unbelievable struggles endured by Hugh Glass. As snow falls with faint, solemn beauty, Hugh finds himself in repeated horrendous situations. Snow acts as an angelic omen of horrors to come covering Hugh in solitude and pain. Iñárritu also shows his mastery behind the camera using the film’s climatic opening sequence as a means of exemplifying what a camera is capable of capturing. Iñárritu gets eye level with the action tracking right behind characters and within moments of intensity. We get so close that blood splatters on to the camera and the hotness of Hugh’s breath fogs up the lens leading to a delightful transition into clouds in one particular sequence.

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The Revenant is capable of taking your breath away simply because it forces you into the situations that Hugh faces. It’s an absolutely incredible experience to sit through and the same can be said of The Hateful Eight. Are both films perfect? Of course not. Tarantino’s film may lack the punch that some viewers expect and it is reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs with its plot that centers around a group trapped in a room attempting to figure out whom among them is the worst. Tarantino has been thought to have ‘lost it’ or peaked in the past as The Hateful Eight has been considered too much of a fan boy project on a similar vein as Death Proof. Some critics and fans will view The Hateful Eight as being too much of a homage as opposed to harboring unique qualities and novelty factors.

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Likewise, The Revenant’s story, which follows the unbelievable near death experiences of Hugh Glass, may be viewed as overkill. The two and a half hour epic repeatedly jumps back and forth between Hugh’s struggles, the adventures of the men who left him, dream sequences experienced by the half-living Hugh, and a side story following a group of Arikara Native Americans looking for their chief’s kidnapped daughter. Depending on your attention span this may cause the film to lose its steam.

For me, these are all minute issues in a larger pool of brilliance. Tarantino is far from having “lost it”, instead he seems more settled into his dialogue heavy screenplays centering The Hateful Eight on the topic of racism and race relations in early America, a topic that holds hardened relevancy today. As always, Tarantino produces some fantastic performances from his actors involved. Samuel L. Jackson is at the best of his career, while Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh churn out fantastic performances. Tarantino’s idolizations of westerns and epics of Classic Hollywood gives way to stunning long shots and an atmosphere of deceit making The Hateful Eight a gripping tale of classic proportions.

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Meanwhile, the back and forth during The Revenant feels more like a fluid dance while Iñárritu’s magnificent long shots of nature possesses a poetic quality calling to mind the imagery of Terrence Malik. Hugh’s repeated near death experiences causes so much anxiety that it results in the most satisfying ending of a film I’ve seen in years. It’s to be without saying that Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance blows his previous roles out of the water, but even just as impressive is Tom Hardy’s performance as Fitzgerald. Hardy is captivating embodying a rationalized evil that compliments well with DiCaprio’s physical performance filled with tears, blood, spit, and reeling in the ground.

While each film has their weaknesses both are incredible cinematic achievements. During this current era where television has peaked in artistic value and storytelling quality, cinema has fallen by the wayside in recent times. Fewer films have taken cinema to new heights in the past few years while television has surpassed it by going above and beyond what is necessary for the small screen. The Hateful Eight and The Revenant are two films that prove cinema still has staying power. Both films possess the strength of shocking and engaging in powerful ways.  If you’re looking for a film or two that will blow you away, then look no further. Tarantino and Iñárritu has got you covered.

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SEE THEM BOTH. As soon as possible and enjoy!

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