Movie reviews: The Hateful Eight, Last Hijack, Bolshoi Babylon

The best of what’s hitting Irish cinemas this week.

Quentin Tarantino’s homage to the Western genre, The Hateful Eight (18s), opens in fine style, as a stagecoach lumbers its way through the snow towards the town of Red Rock with bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and captured killer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) on board. 

They’re joined en route by another bounty hunter, Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson), and Red Rock’s newly appointed sheriff, Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins), but when the quartet are overtaken by a blizzard they are forced to seek shelter at a remote cabin. There they encounter another quartet — hangman Oswaldo Mowbray (Tim Roth), Mexican Bob (Demián Bechir), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and General Smithers (Bruce Dern). 

John Ruth suspects that one of the four is there to help Daisy Domergue escape, and very likely kill him in the process, and so begins a deadly game of cat-and-mouse of mutual suspicion, shifting alliances and lethal gunplay.

It might be quicker to list the Westerns that Tarantino doesn’t reference in this blood-soaked tale, although the most obvious are those of Sergio Leone, Sam Fuller and Sam Peckinpah. 

That all three directed neo-Westerns might account for the reason why Tarantino consciously ignores the sprung rhythms of the classic Westerns, so that his overly long scenes tend to sag rather than twang, although it doesn’t fully explain why genre staples such as pace and narrative drive are sacrificed for cartoonish characterisations and foul-mouthed polemic. 

Walter Goggins puts in a fine shift as the manic, wild-eyed sheriff; otherwise the characters are for the most part grotesque exaggerations who are almost impossible to care for: indeed, it’s a relief when the bullets do start flying, and put an end to some of the more irritatingly arch affectations.

There are some stunning moments of filmmaking — the opening credit sequence is almost worth the price of admission on its own — and Ennio Morricone’s score is superb, but these occasionally sublime exceptions only emphasise the depth of Tarantino’s self-indulgence.

Last Hijack (12A) is an inventive tale of piracy set in Somalia, blending documentary, drama and animation, and telling the story from the perspective of Mohammed, a real-life pirate.

Writer-directors Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting first establish the desperate environmental and economic conditions that led so many Somali men to turn to piracy, before introducing Mohammed’s dilemma: piracy is for young men with nothing to lose, and Mohammed is getting too old to go chasing ships on the ocean. 

Besides, Mohammed wants to get married, and his own family and his future in-laws want him to renounce his criminal ways before he does so.

It’s a fascinating set-up, particularly as the remoter parts of Somalia are depicted here as anarchic and lawless, and Mohammed’s personal circumstances give an added dimension to the time-worn tropes of the one-last-heist story as the indefatigable, khat-chewing anti-hero goes through the motions of gathering a pirate crew around him, even as he comes to understand that the new Somalia has no place for him or his kind. 

Wolting and Pallotta employ animation for the action sequences in which Mohammed, in the process of sketching out the plan for his comrades, remembers his own experiences of boarding and capturing a ship, the inserts providing rare grace notes of hope and beauty in a fascinating film that is downbeat in tone and grim in its prognosis.

The Bolshoi ballet has ‘a sacred meaning’ for Russia, according to Bolshoi Babylon (PG), a documentary by Nick Read and Mark Franchetti: if the Bolshoi is sick, then Russia is sick. The film goes behind the scenes of the Bolshoi in the wake of an acid attack in 2013, when the director of ballet, Sergei Filin, had acid thrown in his face by a disgruntled former collaborator.

But while the narrative thrust of the film investigates why Filin was attacked, and what that might mean for the new Russia as a whole (it’s no coincidence, the film suggests, that the Bolshoi is situated a mere 500 metres from the Kremlin), ‘Bolshoi Babylon’ is equally captivating when it broadens its remit to engage with peripheral figures to the Bolshoi’s civil war, and explores the power of the ballet at one remove from its politics — Boris Akimov, for example, who has taught with the Bolshoi for over 50 years, or the young ballerina, still in recovery, who experienced a full tendon rupture onstage and somehow managed not to fall over.

The purist might wish to see more by way of the Bolshoi in onstage performance, but that’s a minor quibble: ‘Bolshoi Babylon’ is a tour-de-force tale of what happens when pure art and dirty politics collide.

The Hateful Eight ***

Last Hijack ****

Bolshoi Babylon ****


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