MOVIE BUFF-ET: Are Westerns making a comeback with The Revenant and The Hateful Eight?

With Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant striding across multiplexes, is it the dawn of a new golden age of big-screen Westerns?

Anything can happen, but that doesn’t seem likely considering the nature of these particular films. Both firmly fit the genre, but I’m just not sure they will leave viewers clamoring for more of the same for very different reasons.

The Hateful Eight

Andrew Cooper/The Weinstein Company

(R) 168 min.

Tarantino’s a talented filmmaker, and all of his skills are on display in The Hateful Eight, but unfortunately so are all of his excesses. The aptly titled film is torture porn — albeit incredibly well-crafted torture porn — disguised as a Western.

The movie traps a gaggle of bounty hunters and outlaws in the close quarters of a snowbound outpost. Inside, their greed and hatred rage as wildly as the blizzard that trapped them. The outcome is a nauseating gore-fest of physical and mental brutality.

No filmmaker today establishes a setting as well as Tarantino. The mixture of Robert Richardson’s stark but gorgeous cinematography with the rising tension of Oscar-nominated Ennio Morricone’s score sets the viewer up for a classic in the opening moments of the movie. Richardson has a real flare for capturing John Ford’s slow, deliberate style with his lens.

As he introduces one charismatic character after the other, Tarantino jabs the audience with his familiar bursts of profanity, violence and racism just to remind everyone who is in charge.

As engaging as the verbal play may be from talents like Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth and Bruce Dern, the words and actions grow from uncomfortable to unsettling to nearly unwatchable. In my viewing, the theater tittered with laughs and chuckles early, but by the end of the picture, there was silence.

After watching the film in which Leigh’s character was brutalized for laughs and giggles, it’s no wonder Jennifer Lawrence wisely passed on the role. Leigh’s Oscar nod for best-supporting actress should be seen as combat pay.

Tarantino’s formula to first shock and then overwhelm worked. In that sense, the movie is very effective; however, it begs the question, when does satiric commentary on racism and misogyny cross the line and just become racism and misogyny?

The Revenant

Kimberley French/20th Century Fox

(R) 156 min

Iñárritu’s The Revenant is the type of film that screams for Oscar attention, and it received it Thursday with 12 Academy Award nominations, the most of any film this year. This early in the Oscar race, it seems likely to win; too, just like Iñárritu’s “Birdman” did a year ago.

Based on the legend of mountain man Hugh Glass, the film’s plot is straightforward. After surviving being mauled by a grizzly bear, 1820s fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) battles 200 miles of Rocky Mountain territory, its wildlife, indigenous people and the elements to mete out his vengeance on the two fellow trappers who left him to die in a shallow grave.

The historical veracity of the film is only a little less certain than that of the legend, but when has truth ever been the foremost care when making a Western?

The movie is supremely well crafted and offers a view of just how dangerous and cruel something as beautiful as the Rocky Mountains can be. Shot in Canada with crews facing temperatures as low as 13 below zero, the making of the movie and the extremes Iñárritu asked his cast and crew to endure are already becoming legendary in and of themselves.

The film, shot often at eye level of its main character, truly is a feast for the eyes, sumptuous yet cold and barren. You can easily imagine the weight of the mammoth bear as it pounces on Glass’ back, its strength as it tears and tosses him and the pungent humidity of its breath as it sniffs and snuffs around his face.

The horse-riding scenes reek of havoc and danger, and an early single-shot scene detailing an Arikara war party attack places the audience in the thick of the fray. Indelible images such as those as well as the DiCaprio’s guttural performance as the wounded Glass will be hard for any viewer to forget.

Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald, the greedy and impatient trapper, who leaves Glass for dead, gives great value to the film as Glass’ impetus for his brutal journey. Their face-to-face knife and tomahawk battle near an icy stream climaxes the film with a brutal and bloody melee.

However cathartic that final fight may or may not be to another viewer, with a 156-minute running time, The Revenant made me feel like I had crawled 200 miles in the snow by its conclusion. My most resounding thought following the film is how weak and soft man has become in our modern world, and how lucky I was born when I was.

I would never argue The Revenant is a poorly crafted film, but personally I prefer snappier fare, particularly with my Westerns.

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Fortuitously and in keeping with our Western theme this week, The Razorback Theater in conjunction with Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies offers two special showings of the classic 1968 George Roy Hill film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 20 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20.

It’s a Western and the model for all buddy pictures that followed, with Paul Newman as Butch and Robert Redford as Sundance. Katherine Ross is superb as Sundance’s girlfriend, and the scenes featuring the three of them together are among the best in the film.

The dialog is anachronistic for a Western, peppered with quick and witty retorts contemporary of its time. Some see that as a problem; I don’t.

The film also features the No. 1 hit “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” sung by B.J. Thomas and written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It won the Academy Award for Best Song and David and Bacharach also garnered an Oscar for Best Original Score. William Goldman also won an Oscar for Best Screenplay for the film, while Conrad L. Hall won for Best Cinematography.

Classic Corner

If neither The Hateful Eight nor The Revenant fit your bill for as a quality Western, or if you’re just hankering for more, here are three suggestions:

Quigley Down Under
In honor of the passing of Alan Rickman, I suggest Quigley Down Under as a fun latter day Western with a twist — it’s set in Australia. Directed by Simon Wincer, who also directed the classic Lonesome Dove mini series, the film pits Tom Selleck as an American gunslinger Quigley against Rickman’s Elliot Marston, the rancher who hired Quigley and brought him to the other side of the Earth to gun down Aborigines. Selleck is having none of it, and he sets his sights on stopping Rickman.

Destry Rides Again
If you ever wondered where in the world Mel Brooks got the idea for Madeline Kahn’s character Lilli Von Shtupp in his classic spoof Blazing Saddles, well, it was from this 1939 oater starring Marlene Dietrich as Frenchy and Jimmy Stewart as the titular Tom Destry. The movie is dated but still a hoot for those who love old movies. Stewart plays a deputy sheriff, who despite being an excellent marksman would rather clean up the town with his wits rather than his pistol. Dietrich is saloon singer who’s dates the corrupt saloon owner and businessman Kent (Brian Donlevy), but has her eye on the new deputy.

They Died With Their Boots On
The history is sketchy at best in this rousing 1941 biopic of Gen. George Armstrong Custer, but, my, doesn’t Errol Flynn cut a dashing figure in a Calvary uniform. Flynn, who plays the arrogant, devil-may-care Custer, and his onscreen paramour Olivia de Havilland have excellent chemistry in their eighth and final film together and are a joy to watch. The film, directed by Raoul Walsh, also features Anthony Quinn in an early role as Sioux war chief Crazy Horse. The score by Max Steiner adds to the flavor of the picture, and if you aren’t at least humming the tune to Garryowen by the time the film ends, you might not have a pulse.