First off, I realise this post is too late for many of you. Those of you who have already seen Quentin Tarantino's latest, 'The Hateful Eight', will already have formed your own opinions. Many of you, I'm sure, loved it. I didn't. Oh sure, it had a couple of good moments, but not enough to fill almost three hours. And at the end of it, on top of being left with two knees that no longer worked (due to being crushed in cramped cinema seats for, it bears repeating, almost three hours) I was left with the feeling that my evening would have been much better spent re-watching the classic Sergo Corbucci-directed Italian western Tarantino was so clearly emulating.
Bounty hunters? Snowy mountain setting? Bloody violence? Ennio Morricone score? Bleak, almost nihilistic tone throughout? Oh there's plenty that these two have in common, only one of them got there first and did it all better.
I don't really want to convince anybody not to see 'The Hateful Eight' if they really want to, but if through some strange scenario you were faced with the choice of seeing 'The Hateful Eight' or 'The Great Silence' and you could only see one, see 'The Great Silence'. If you've already seen 'The Hateful Eight' but have never seen 'The Great Silence', see 'The Great Silence'. But whatever you do, don't go the rest of your life without seeing 'The Great Silence'. Don't deny yourself that, because it really is a masterpiece and much, much better than 'The Hateful Eight'. Why?
1. The Runtime
Surely there can be no debate in this point. Whatever you may wish to argue in 'The Hateful Eight's favour – and there are a few things to be said for it – there is no way in hell you or anybody can justify its length. It is too damn long. And I'm not against a hefty runtime, when there's enough material to fill it. Unfortunately, there are huge sections of the film that could be lost without anyone missing them. It is slow. Slower than slow. So slow that it eventually becomes torturous, to the point where any enjoyment I could glean from the blood-spattered finale was long gone.
'The Great Silence' doesn't have this problem. It clocks in at a lean 1hr and 45mins. Even then, it still has a little fat that could be cut out of it, but nowhere near the amount that 'The Hateful Eight' has. As a result, it needn't take up your entire evening. Just imagine the elation you'll feel once the credits have rolled and you realise you can still do something else with your time! Well... maybe not 'elation'. Nobody's elated at the end of this film. But we'll get to that.
2. The Dialogue
Remember when Quentin Tarantino was praised for his dialogue? Remember when it was called revolutionary? That sure seems a long time ago. 'Reservoir Dogs' and 'Pulp Fiction' rightly received praise for how natural the characters sounded in extraordinary circumstances. Those movie types talked just like we talk! It was a tremendous strength, it really was.
His characters came alive through dialogue that sounded like genuine conversation, and this continued through 'Jackie Brown' and, to a lesser extent, 'Kill Bill' and 'Death Proof'. But then QT decided to start with the period pieces. And instead of characters talking like real people, for the last three films we've had nothing but overly stilted, verbose-to-the-point-of-cartoon dialogue delivered in long-winded theatrical monologues that have no relation to real life. In 'Inglorious Basterds' and 'Django Unchained' it was perhaps forgiveable, but 'The Hateful Eight' really offers nothing else. It is almost entirely composed of long-winded speeches by thinly-drawn caricatures with no grounding in reality.
'The Great Silence' may not have the most realistic characters, but what it does have going for it is a hero who, as per the title, is mute. This means a huge amount of the action, interplay and emotion is delivered – surprise surprise – in silence. It's a brave choice that paradoxically puts a distance between the hero and the audience, while making him hugely engaging. Jean-Louis Trintignant's performance in this film is unforgettable and achieved without having to deliver a single over-written speech or once mentioning his “dingus”. I'd like to see QT try that.
3. The Villain
I can't criticise the hero of 'The Hateful Eight'. The film doesn't have one. What it does have is an abundance of villains – at least eight of them, by my count – and I don't think any of them are especially interesting. I didn't get much out of it when any of them met their violent ends. They just weren't that memorable.
Certainly, none of them can hold a candle to Klaus Kinski's Loco. As psychotic as his name suggests, Loco is a bounty hunter who relishes death and has a pathological hatred for his fellow man. On top of this he is frighteningly intelligent, resourceful and utterly merciless. He can also rationalise every action with a charming affability and sense of fun that makes him almost likeable. At least, until shit gets real.
4. The Score
I will commend Tarantino for this. He engineered the return of the great Ennio Morricone to the western genre. I, like most Morricone fans, thought we would never get to hear another western score from perhaps the greatest film composer of all time. But Tarantino made it happen and Morricone delivers – big time. The theme for 'The Hateful Eight' he delivers is outstanding, as are the few other tracks he contributed on top of his out-takes from 'The Thing'. Make no mistake – it's a great score.
But 'The Great Silence' is better. Hauntingly beautiful, it still stands out today as a marked departure from his other spaghetti western tracks. Managing to convey the cold and brutality of the landscape as well as the depth of emotion that no dialogue can hope to articulate, it is the beating heart of the film and astonishing in isolation. There are plenty who would argue that 'The Great Silence' is the finest score Morricone ever wrote. In a field with so many contenders, I'd say that's a tough call, but it's definitely up there.
5. THAT Ending
No spoilers, but there is a clear thematic difference in the approaches taken in the endings of both 'The Hateful Eight' and 'The Great Silence'. Put simply, one goes out with a whimper, the other with a bang. One is worth a shrug, while the other is one of the most daring, unforgettable endings ever put to film. No kidding.
Anyone who's seen 'The Great Silence' knows exactly what I'm talking about, but if you haven't then you owe it to yourself to find out why people like me keep banging on about this exceptional film almost 50 years after it came out and the ending which remains unrivalled for its sheer, jaw-dropping power.
Oh sure, there are other reasons. But these are the main ones and if these can't convince you, nothing will. If you want to disagree with me about the merits of 'The Hateful Eight', feel free, but do me a favour – DON'T do it without first watching 'The Great Silence'. See that. Then we'll talk.