Out on Friday 8 January
Tarantinos gunslingers get cabin fever. Vincent Cassel delivers a violent education. Yes, heres this weeks new releases. Click on for our reviews of The Hateful Eight, Partisan, Bolshoi Babylon and A War. For the best movie reviews, subscribe to Total Film.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT
No one could ever accuse Quentin Tarantino of a lack of self-importance. The Hateful Eight, his first western if you obey his call to view Django Unchained as a southern, begins with a sketch of a horse-drawn stagecoach dwarfed by red, snowcapped mountains, the word OVERTURE printed on the screen. Said overture lasts several minutes. Ennio Morricones music is at once lush and menacing, the full orchestral swells layered with music-box tinkles, ominous drums and grumbling horns. The mountains fade, the music dies. The Weinstein Company Presents fills the screen and disappears to ensure the next title has the screen all to itself: The 8th Film By Quentin Tarantino. It is, of course, all part of Tarantinos quest to make The Hateful Eight an event, along with the 187-minute running time, a 12-minute intermission and the decision to shoot in Ultra Panavision 70, as favoured by mid-20th-century epics like Ben-Hur, The Fall Of The Roman Empire and The Greatest Story Ever Told (well, if its good enough for God). But event or no event, you need to deliver quite the gift if youre to package it so elaborately. Thankfully, Tarantino is one generous sonofagun Set a few years after the American Civil War, The Hateful Eight tells of eight strangers holed up in a log cabin while a blizzard rages outside. Were first introduced to John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the former a bounty hunter whos taking the latter, a crazed outlaw, to the town of Red Rock to hang. Their stagecoach twice encounters wandering strangers on the icy road: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a former union soldier turned bounty hunter; and then Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a southern renegade whos heading for Red Rock to take up the position of sheriff. These four meet four more when the blizzard forces them to seek refuge at Minnies Haberdashery in deepest Wyoming. Inside is Bob (Demian Bichir), a Mexican whos looking after the joint while Minnie visits her mother, plus Red Rocks flamboyant English hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), taciturn cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and Confederate General Sanford Dont Give a Damn Smithers (Bruce Dern). As Mobray crows, Looks like Minnies Haberdashery is about to get cosy for the next few days... With Robert Richardsons camera now locked on to (into?) this veritable vipers nest only rare slogs to the stable or outhouse, and a magnificent flashback at a key moment, allow for the pristine 70mm to take in the great outdoors part of the fun is trying to figure out wholl bite first. Tarantinos verbiage unspools, heavy on exposition but as satisfying to suck on as the oversized pipes wielded by these grizzled characters. Its quickly apparent that backstories entwine, loyalties exist, grievances lurk. But just who is in cahoots with whom? Its a tricksy business made all the more slippery by ever-shifting character dynamics, on-a-dime mood flips and genre switcheroos: western to murder mystery to grand guignol farce. The Hateful Eight is by no means as tight and dynamic as Reservoir Dogs it again evidences the writer/directors migration to novelistic filmmaking, replete with chapter headings, snatches of narrative voiceover and leisurely pacing but its a superior entertainment that marks Tarantinos most mature outing since Jackie Brown. Themes that have always percolated in his work bubble to the surface, with the post-Civil War timeframe facilitating an openly political film. Only time black folks are safe is when white folks are disarmed, comes Warrens riposte to the endless racial slurs hatefully tossed his way, most of them from Mannix. The action might be set in the 1870s but its musings on race and guns are still depressingly relevant, and, for all its narrative twists, exploding heads and flickers of anachronistic music (The White Stripes Apple Blossom, David Hess plaintive now Youre All Alone from The Last House On The Left), it frequently offers an unusually sombre tone. As for the performances, theyre anything but hateful, with Jackson, Roth and Leigh stealing the show. The wide lensing means several characters are normally in any one shot, tucked into the deepest, darkest corners of the cabin, and the casts relish of the theatricality of Tarantinos dialogue fits perfectly given the characters each don masks to hide their true purpose. Leigh especially deserves awards attention, somehow maintaining Daisys mischievous glint through a series of punishing ordeals, with her face variously punched, soaked in stew, vomited on and drenched in splattered brains. THE VERDICT: The Hateful Eight brands the western with a big QT. All youd expect from a Tarantino movie and more besides. Saddle up. Director: Quentin Tarantino Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern Theatrical release: 8 January 2016 Jamie Graham
The title suggests a WW2 movie, but Australian writer/director Ariel Kleimans debut is an enigmatic drama about a secretive Eastern European cult. Leading this tribe of single mothers and children is the messiah-like Gregori (Vincent Cassel), who trains his young charges to become assassins; yet his 11-year-old surrogate son Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel) is beginning to question his supreme power. Kleiman seems less interested in explaining the whys of his scenario than in observing his characters and their interactions a strategy that pays off thanks to excellent lead turns. Director: Ariel Kleiman Starring: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara Theatrical release: 8 January 2016 Tom Dawson
In January 2013, a Masked Man threw acid in the face of the Bolshoi Ballets artistic director Sergei Filin. The investigation into the crime, eventually attributed to a peeved ex-dancer, revealed deep-seated resentments at the company that make Black Swan look tame by comparison. Given in-depth access to the Bolshois inner workings, co-directors Nick Read and Mark Franchetti present a compelling if ultimately somewhat dispiriting study of the sacrifices required to be part of this world-famous institution and the competitiveness that underpins its artistic supremacy. Director: Nick Read Starring: Sergei Filin, Vladimir Urin, Boris Akimov, Maria Alexandrova, Dimitry Medvedev Theatrical release: 8 January 2016 Neil Smith
Tobias Lindholms gripping wartime drama musters the same intensity as his high-seas tale A Hijacking. Pilou Asbk plays Claus, a respected Danish troop commander in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, who makes a morally questionable, if understandable, decision mid-battle that leaves 11 civilians dead. Is he to blame? Lindholm raises the question in an equally compelling second half, as Claus goes home to face charges. The courtroom scenes are just as jaw-hanging as those on the battlefield, exploring accountability as those around Claus close ranks. Thoughtful, thunderous filmmaking. Director: Tobias Lindholm Starring: Pilou Asbk, Tuva Novotny, Dar Salim, Sren Malling Theatrical release: 8 January 2016 James Mottram