They are two of the biggest and most talked about movies currently in theaters. They are both wildly ambitious, sprawling period epics. They are both made by directors with distinct flamboyant styles which are either loved or hated. I’m talking about Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” and Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”.
I have been fascinated by the responses to these two films. Both have evoked predominantly positive reactions, but the praises come in different forms and from different places. Tarantino diehards are arguably the biggest and most vocal fans and, despite a few critical misgivings and being shunned by the Oscars, most of them really went for “The Hateful Eight”. Iñárritu certainly doesn’t have the enthusiastic personal fanbase, but despite similar critical misgivings, “The Revenant” has struck a chord with audiences and the Academy where it is sitting on 12 Oscar nominations.
While I usually don’t see the point in comparing movies one-on-one, I found the subtle and obvious similarities between these two giant films combined with the many passionate positive and negative opinions too intriguing to pass up. It gave me a good reason to go back and re-examine both films and my initial takes on them. So for what it’s worth here are my thoughts on each and how they compare.
“The Hateful Eight” (FULL REVIEW)
I don’t know if there is another filmmaker more smitten with his style than Quentin Tarantino. Never before has this been more evident than in this film. I absolutely love the idea behind “The Hateful Eight”. It offered Tarantino the opportunity to truly expand himself as a filmmaker. It allowed him the chance to uniquely use his great talents for creating sublime visual presentations and fabulously entertaining characters. All he would need to do is dial back his impulsive style and get himself out of the way.
That proved to be something he just couldn’t do. In spite of all “The Hateful Eight” does right, it simply can’t overcome Tarantino’s compulsion to put his personal stamp on every inch of the film. It’s seen in the wildly overwritten script. It’s seen in the bursts of absurdly over-the-top graphic violence, some of which is distractingly stupid. It’s seen in the incessant and flippant use of the n-word without any meaningful commentary or the use of his one meaningful female character as nothing more than his physical and verbal punching bag.
I still firmly believe that a wonderful film lies somewhere inside of what we get with “The Hateful Eight”. A smarter and more focused approach could have resulted in something much more satisfying. But Tarantino relentlessly beats his own drum without an ounce of modulation. To be fair many people, particularly fans of his brash style, truly love the film and have eloquently defended it. But despite what I liked about “The Hateful Eight”, my experience is muddied by the frustration of knowing what could have been.
“The Revenant” (FULL REVIEW)
Like Tarantino, Alejandro G. Iñárritu is completely devoted to his particular style of filmmaking. In the past that has meant some pretty pretentious movies that often wallow in suffering, sadness, and misery. “The Revenant” certainly has some of those elements, but strangely enough Iñárritu is able to use these very same indulgences to create a truly mesmerizing cinematic experience.
“The Revenant” maintains a fairly simple narrative within its grand scale. But often times the simplest can be the most compelling. And unlike “The Hateful Eight”, Iñárritu’s focus is always clear and he never smothers his story with his own brand. It’s certainly not an easy watch. The pain and suffering is still there, but every ounce of it feels authentic. Iñárritu holds a tight-fisted control of his film which in the past has been cause for concern. Here it works masterfully.
But there is also the huge importance of the visual presentation. Iñárritu and the great cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki give us some of the most spectacular images of the year. Some spotlight nature’s untamed beauty. Others contrast that with the ugliness of humanity. Some simply capture action scenes with intense artistry. Both filmmakers are visual masters, but its Iñárritu who uses his cameras better to serve his story and themes.
For me “The Revenant” tops “The Hateful Eight” in nearly every meaningful category. Between the two, it’s the one that has stuck with me the most and that impressed me enough to see it a second time. Again I want to stress that in “The Hateful Eight” Tarantino fans will undoubtedly see many of the creative strokes that make them Tarantino fans. Me, I saw many of the things that frustrates me about his filmmaking amplified x10.
For what it’s worth those are my thoughts. But what say you? What are your thoughts on these two movies and the two unique, stylized filmmakers behind them? I’ve shared my perspective. Now I would love to hear yours.