The Hateful Eight and all the images you see in this review are owned by The Weinstein Company
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Like the rising of the tides, the phases of the moon, and the DiCaprio Oscar denial, Tarantino comes back once again to give us a well written update of one his favorite films as a kid. Now Django Unchained was a REALLY good movie, but it was weighed down by some less than stellar decisions throughout like the excessive use of… that one word, and how little Django got to do in his own movie before the third act. Oh, and let’s not forget the baffling inclusion of horse tricks at the end and the terrible acting chops of Quintin himself. Still, this movie seems to be much smaller in scope and looks to be much more focused on being an ensemble piece than any one person’s movie which gives Tarantino plenty of opportunities to fill his scenes with his trademark dialogue (and fill these bodies with his trademark amounts of excess blood and gore). Is this going to be a step up for the iconic director, or is this the sign of a trend towards being an ALMOST amazing director instead of an amazing one? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with the bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson) being begrudgingly picked up of the side of the road by John Ruth (Kurt Russel) who’s also a bounty hunter and is taking Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to hang in a nearby town of Red Rock for her crimes. Unfortunately, there’s a blizzard coming and the driver O.B. Jackson (James Parks) isn’t inclined to risk it, so they head to a nearby waystation that’s delightfully called Minnie’s Haberdashery, though they find another straggler in the snowy wasteland along the way in the form of Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. Once they arrive, they find Oswald Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gag (Michael Madsen), former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) as well as Bob (Demián Bichir) who’s running the place in Minnie’s absence. Now John Ruth doesn’t trust any of these mother fuckers and none of them seem to be good wholesome people in the first place, but there’s nothing John can do with the blizzard blocking all means of travel, so they have to share this tiny space until it clears up. Will this be a peaceful affair as these nine strangers (yes, there’s nine instead of eight of them) get to know each other, or will things erupt into a cacophony of violence, blood, and racial epithets? Well I’m sure you can guess which route this movie takes, but is it at least super captivating to watch, right!?
The movie is exactly what you expect it to be. It’s Tarantino doing what he does best, only without the restraint and control that Sally Menke gave to the films she worked on before tragically dying in 2010, though the seams were starting to show at least a TINY bit in Inglourious Basterds from 2008 (Deathproof was much worse, but that one felt like an aberration than a consistent of his evolution as a film maker). The man child auteur of cinema knows how to spin a yarn, turn a phrase, and capture beauty coupled with dark humor like no one else, but can’t spare a precious moment of his masterwork and will sacrifice pacing and a reasonable runtime in the process. On top of that, there are some awkward moments that don’t really work and some stylish choices that seem lazy and amateurish which I’m guessing wasn’t the intent but it comes across that way nonetheless. But hey, you can’t take away just how god damn good the guy is at crafting compelling characters and writing some hilarious dark moments.
The acting here is superb across the board with MAYBE Michael Madsen being the weak point, though I think his phony ass cowboy drawl by way of a Batman growl was intentional based on what we find out later about the character. Kurt Russel and Samuel L Jackson are veterans for this kind of material and both play their roles the way you want them to (over the top) and I kept on thinking that Tim Roth was Christoph Waltz considering how well he’s able to pull of multiple accents throughout this which is certainly an achievement in my book. Similarly, Bruce Dern is fantastic as at playing despicable scumbags (if you don’t believe me, go watch Big Love) and he’s just as good at here without having to go over the top with his performance, and does a good job of grounding everything whenever he’s on screen. I’d say that Demián Bichir as Bob the Mexican kind of gets lost in the shuffle as he’s the least… outrageous of the characters (despite his strong accent), but he as well has some strong moments in here. The one who REALLY gets screwed over in this is James Parks as O.B Jackson who despite having just as much screen time as the other eight people staying in the waystation, is not mentioned once in the marketing of this movie considering he’s not one of the Hateful Eight, though I guess his character is less “hateful” than everyone else so he gets pushed to the side (the D’Artagnan of the group if you will). Still, the guy gives one hell of a performance here as the comic relief (second only to Walton Goggins) and as the everyman caught in the middle of a shitty situation.
The real MVPs of the movie though have to be Walton Goggins as the racist and dimwitted sheriff Chris Mannix and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the crafty and enigmatic Daisy Domergue. These are some real star turning performances for two actors who have been working their asses off in the last few years and hopefully this is what will turn them into household names like Inglourious Basterds did for Christoph Waltz. I’m not too familiar with Jennifer Jason Leigh, but Walton Goggins has been around for a while and has been showing up in a lot of great supporting roles recently, including Tarantino’s last film and American Ultra where he was one of the best parts about it. He’s despicable like everyone else, but he’s also the dumbest which when compared to the others which softens the edge a bit for his character. He’s too stupid to be as dangerous as everyone else.
Daisy on the other hand is a straight up scoundrel and Jennifer Jason Leigh plays it to the nines; constantly watching and smirking while also not being afraid to fuck with those around her (especially John Ruth) just out of spite. I’ve been hearing that some people have a problem with the way her character is treated throughout the movie with claims of misogyny on the part of the writer/director, and frankly I just don’t see it here. You want a nice juicy target to accuse of misogyny? Look no further than Tarantino’s best buddy Eli Roth who recently released a movie where gendered violence was the whole fucking point. I don’t buy the arguments that the harsh treatment Daisy endures in this movie is inherently misogynist and while I understand that in-universe justifications of a creative work does not overwrite the potentially unintended subtextual message of said work, I can’t think of anything in here that specifically highlights her gender in a negative or discriminatory way. Like all the other characters in here, she gets some harsh words thrown her way and takes a serious beating throughout, but it never comes across as especially demeaning or based on some sort of paternalistic power dynamic (though I guess the prisoner/captive dynamic isn’t all THAT different). While John Ruth clearly loves his work, his treatment of her is born out of fear of what she can do if not kept in check and the movie goes about proving that those who fear her have every right to be afraid. Again, none of this has to do with her being a woman, but for her being a very dangerous criminal. Even if you look at the fact that John Ruth constantly has her chained up as overtly demeaning for him to handle his female prisoner, it’s not like HIS point of view is intended to be the correct one in terms of what the movie is trying to say. Once again, everyone in here is a reprehensible scumbag who has done a lot of bad things in their lives and I think the writing and directing here does a great job of getting that fact across. I mean maybe I’m not the perfect barometer for this sort of thing, but you compare this to that piece of shit Green Inferno, and it’s not even a contest. At no point did anything in this movie make we want to stand up and leave like the female circumcision scene in… that other movie, and I never got the sense that Daisy was getting undue harassment or was uncomfortably mistreated. Sure the movie is CRAZY intense at points, but not in the kind of way where you sit there wishing the director wasn’t trying so fucking hard to shock you that they go places that aren’t worth going.
Now despite my skepticism to the misogyny argument against this film, I did indeed have some problems with it. First of all, the movie is too damn long. Now I’m not saying that a movie CAN’T be three hours, but this one sure as hell did not need to be. If you’re gonna try to hold my attention for over two and a half hours, you can’t just bring your A game; you need to bring your A+++ game or else the bloated run time will just feel unnecessary. While there’s very little in here that’s outright bad, it doesn’t rise to that level where the runtime would be worth it, and the mystery as to who’s the fox in the henhouse is certainly not so labyrinthian or dense that it needs all that time for the intrigue to naturally play itself out.
What they COULD have cut and replaced with something else (that would have preferably been shorter) was Samuel L Jackson’s ten minute story about how he got someone close to someone in this waystation to suck his dick before blowing his brains out. It’s just an unpleasant scenario to listen to as he tells this story with so much glee and vigor about raping another man. Thankfully the movie us ambiguous enough about it so that you can just assume he’s lying the entire time, but it really is the low point of the movie.
This also leads into another issue this movie has which is that there are LONG scenes of two or three characters talking Tarantino’s trademark dialogue while everyone else is clearly milling about without anything to do. The set is small enough so that it’s unavoidable that well see other characters in the background of shots, and there really wasn’t much direction given to them as to what they need to be doing while other people are talking. It’s almost like a play in that sense where the actors will stay in the backgrounds while someone has a soliloquy, but that doesn’t seem to be the movies intent. Even if it was, it was NOT executed well here. Another thing I didn’t care for (this time it was definitely intentional) was the narration which happens a total of twice in a three hour movie. Now the first time it comes up, I get the feeling that that was the point where the intermission was supposed to go, but even with that what ends up being spoken (by Tarantino himself naturally) is so ham fisted and utilitarian that it feels like a spot in the script that didn’t add up so he had to bridge the gap somehow. It feels lazy and completely without any sense of style or skill to justify its inclusion.
So what does this movie tell us about the grindhouse auteur? I wouldn’t say he’s stagnating creatively considering that all his movies are unique and well written, but there is a degree of repetition in his output that’s only getting more pronounced as time goes on. Like I said, his movies have become less restrained and more about fitting in whatever his whims are at the moment instead of making a cohesive narrative or well-paced viewing experience. I think this movie is a bit better than Django Unchained, but I want to see if he can make another movie again that doesn’t run over two and a half hours or doesn’t feel the need to indulge in tangential character moments. Unfortunately, that’s probably not gonna happen until the guy has a serious critical flop on his hands which is really the only way to get a someone with that combination of ego and talent to show a bit of focus. Then again, it took M Night about five or six critical flops before he made an okay film last year, but let’s hope it doesn’t take THAT much for Tarantino to shape up a bit. Until that day, I would still highly recommend seeing this movie. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, and while it may be a bit long, there are very few who can make a movie like this guy can.
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2 thoughts on “Cinema Dispatch: The Hateful Eight”
Short Version: A how-to guide on how to populate a movie with morally irredeemable bastards and still make it compelling to watch.
-It feels like a spiritual successor (predecessor?) to Reservoir Dogs. After spending the last decade or so making what are essentially cathartic revenge fantasies (Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglorious Basterds, Django), it’s interesting watching Tarantino make a movie that goes back to the kind of morally dark storytelling that initially made his presence felt in the independent film circuit. This is another story about twisted, evil people, locked in the same location, who believe at least one of them is not who they claim to be, where soon enough trust begins to fall apart and paranoia sets in. Much like that movie, there are no heroes, only villains. The fact that it more or less borrows a lot of that setup (even a few actors) and puts it in this movie without feeling like a stale copy-paste/retread is pretty damn impressive (I haven’t heard anyone bring this up). In both movies, displays of violence are ugly and unsettling rather than cathartic, and while I would prefer the latter, there always feels like there’s a point to the bloodshed. It’s always punctuated by the character’s actions and pushes the story forward.
-It’s easy to look at Tarantino’s films as just a collection of recurring tropes (violence, the style of dialogue, getting meta about movies, etc.), but it takes genuine skill as a writer/director to make these things keep working after 8 movies. Lesser filmmakers would let a movie like this lean on the violence and unpleasantness of the movie without backing it up with much else (read: Directing good performances from well cast actors). It’s a testament to his skill how our main characters (with the exception of James Parks’ O.B.) are all human garbage who brutalize literally all innocent characters in the movie, yet I still find myself engaged in what they were doing and wanted to see where they would end up. I never found myself rooting for anybody (I feel like I would’ve fallen into a trap if I did) or even gave any of the titular Hateful the benefit of the doubt of ending up as some kind of anti-hero, yet there I was, on board to wherever the movie was going.
-Of the two movies I’ve seen recently about people surviving harsh winter and murderous intent in post-Civil War America, I liked this one the best.