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Bruce Dern introduces himself to a whole new generation in “The Hateful Eight”

the hateful eight bruce dern
There are many, many things to like about Quentin Tarantino’s new film The Hateful Eight. A great deal of them are being talked about all throughout the industry by various writers, but one aspect of Tarantino’s eighth outing is being woefully neglected. What is that? Well, the supporting turn by Bruce Dern, of course. Is it the flashiest in the movie? No, but that’s not the point. Dern is one of the great character actors of the last half century, and seeing him really get to dive into a role like this and work with Tarantino is something special. In a flick that’s rarely understated, they manage something fairly subtle, so I figured that was worth appreciating a bit today. The film opens this week, so it makes perfect sense.

For those unaware, this is, ironically enough, Tarantino film number eight, and centers around a group of less than savory characters convening on a single location, namely Minnie’s Haberdashery. Distrust turns to suspicion when murder occurs, with the plot becoming somewhat of a whodunit, before exploding into even more violence. QT writes and directs, with the cast, in addition to the aforementioned Dern, including Zoë Bell, Demian Bichir, Walton Goggins, Dana Gourrier, Lee Horsley, Samuel L. Jackson, Keith Jefferson, Gene Jones, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Madsen, Belinda Owino, James Parks, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, Craig Stark, and Channing Tatum. Robert Richardson handles the cinematography while Ennio Morricone composed the score. Dern might not give the showiest performance in the movie, but for my money, he gives one of the best. I was honored by the chance to talk with him over lunch recently and that alone is an experience I’ll remember as long as I live. Factor in the work that he gives here, taking a smaller member of the ensemble and giving him such full life, well…that’s just beautiful stuff.

Even though Dern has worked pretty steadily over the years, including popping up in previous Tarantino outing Django Unchained, he really came back to cinephiles with his award winning leading man role in Nebraska. He took Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival and at one point seem poised to finally take home his first Academy Award (having been previously nominated in Best Supporting Actor for Coming Home and snubbed multiple times before/after), but he wound up falling short. He still received his second Oscar nomination though, getting into Best Actor. It officially made him overdue in my book, not that he wasn’t already, if we really think about it.

Earlier this year, it looked to me like Dern was set up to cakewalk to a Best Supporting Actor victory for The Hateful Eight. After all, the category is all but designed for veterans to get their due. As you may have noticed, I predicted him to win Supporting Actor all throughout the summer, but alas, it was not to be. Honestly, no one in The Hateful Eight has caught on in Supporting Actor, which is as much as anything a function of how competitive the category is. Goggins, Jackson (though he seems to be going Lead), or Russell could easily have gotten the buzz, not to mention Dern, but it just didn’t happen. It’s a shame too, as I have no doubt that audiences will walk away from this one talking about those performances. In fact, I think some might be of the same mindset that I am, which is that Dern is the secret weapon here.

If there’s one thing that I really wish for later on this week when The Hateful Eight opens (and stay tuned for more on the movie in just a few days), it’s that Dern really gets a whole new generation to watch and admire his unique acting talents. He does things unlike anyone else in the industry. As mentioned above, I’ve been lucky enough to interact with him on multiple occasions and get to know him a bit, so that only fuels the fire to want to see good things happen to the man. He’s a class act, one of the best performers of his generation, and someone I always look forward to watching on the big screen. He’s special, plain and simple…

Be sure to check Dern out in The Hateful Eight, which begins its theatrical run on Christmas Day!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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