IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 187 min/ 175 min/ 167 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Some time after the American Civil War, a stagecoach hurtles towards the town of Red Rock through the wintry Wyoming landscape, containing bounty hunter John Ruth and his fugitive captive Daisy. They encounter fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren and Chris Mannix, who claims to be Red Rock’s new sheriff. Lost in a blizzard, the bunch seeks refuge at Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they are greeted by: Bob, who claims to be taking care of the place while Minnie is gone; Oswaldo Mobray, the hangman of Red Rock; Joe Gage, a cow puncher; and confederate general Sanford Smithers. As the storm overtakes the mountainside, the eight travellers come to learn that they might not make it to Red Rock after all….
How times change. There was a time when this critic was beginning to dread the arrival of a new Quentin Tarantino film, and even wrote an article for this very website saying in a somewhat appropriately long winded manner how the man’s work had vastly declined and had become little more than a tedious parody of itself. Fast forward a bit, and he came out of Django Unchained feeling rather satisfied, and then, a bit later, got rather excited that Tarantino’s next film was going to another Western, a genre he obviously had a real feel for, even if said excitement was a little tempered by the possibility that Django Unchained could have been a one-off. Fast forward some more, and he came out of The Hateful Eight feeling that he ought to write a letter apologising to Quentin about his article, because he’s now made two fine movies in a row and has well and truly regained his mojo, which is not what you may think from the very mixed reviews the film has received. The Hateful Eight, you see, is I think Tarantino’s most self indulgent and least accessible effort yet. Okay, it’s not packed full of references [though of course there are a few] to films that the average movie goer won’t know or care about, but other than that it really is the most Tarantino-esque film that the man has made, pushing and increasing the stylistic elements you get in his films to almost breaking point, and in the process daring to lose many fans as he does so, while non-fans or folk new to his films could possibly be totally lost.
This means that The Hateful Eight could very well be his purest movie, and I’ll admit right away that it’s less entertaining in a general sense than Django Unchained. However, in time, I feel that it may come to be regarded as the better film, despite certain perversities, such as all this talk about Ultra 70mm Panavision probably creating expectations of loads of great outdoor scenery when instead we get around 80% of the film taking place indoors in a single room. Though I often admire such audacity, it can lead to a sense of being cheated, to the point where one can be blind to the fact that the cinematography, while not providing what might be expected, is actually quite superb and makes great use of the ultra-wide format so you can see for example, if you’re really paying attention, a character’s reaction on the side or in the background to a comment by someone else. While I doubt I’ll have the time to see it again on the big screen, I do feel that The Hateful Eight is a film which is worth seeing twice even if you weren’t sure about it the first time because, even if you find it slow and repetitive and overly dialogue-ridden etc, there really is a hell of a lot to admire, Tarantino being totally in control and working somewhere near his best, at least in terms of achieving what he set out to do.
I guess that you could call the film a cross between Reservoir Dogs and The Thing, though, despite containing a great many similarities and allusions to those two films, it came across to me increasingly as a melding of Django Unchained – it shares several of the concerns of that film, in particular its racial ones, while of course Tarantino’s first attempt at the story’s was as a sequel to that film in book form – and a twisted mutation of an Agatha Christie murder mystery, something like And Then There Were None which of course has just had a superb new adaptation by the BBC and which even has some similar scenes including a climactic hanging. One of the most exciting things to me about The Hateful Eight is that, for once, Tarantino commissioned an actual score for this film, by no less than that god of movie soundtracks Ennio Morricone [well, they’d been courting for years, and after several instances of Tarantino using some Morricone pieces in his films, Morricone specifically wrote a song for use in Django Unchained], and I felt like cheering when, during the film’s brilliant opening of beautifully bleak scenery and a slow zoom in to a slightly grotesque crucifix statue over which intensely brooding music plays, the words ‘Music by Ennio Morricone’ appeared during the credits. It’s so rare to see the 87 year old’s name on a film these days.
So The Hateful Eight is definitely a film which takes its time, with I reckon around half an hour taken up with four characters waffling in a stagecoach before we even get to the film’s principal setting, but when you have actors as good as the ones here delivering the words and Tarantino’s knack for dialogue in full flow, it really doesn’t matter too much. Once we are inside the main locale, Tarantino takes an almost absurdly long time introducing the other characters and then having most of them have one-on-one conversations with each other, the film at times feeling like a first edit as well as a stage play, but if you know what your’re getting into it works well enough, full of verbal cat and mouse and very gradually escalating tension with one or more of them probably lying, while this really does reveal that the man is just happiest having people just talk to each other, albeit people who tend not to trust each other. One thing I must say is that none of the main eight [okay, there’s a coachman, but he’s not hateful at all, so I suppose he doesn’t count] characters are very likeable, which means that we don’t care very much about them when things get heavy, though they are interesting and sometimes amusing, such as Tim Roth’s Oswaldo Moybray, who constantly sports a posh English accent which suddenly turns into a Northern one in one of the film’s funniest moments, which makes up for it. Half way through it does all turn into the expected bloodbath, and this one really is bloody and long, though still slightly humorous, like a tremendously grand guignol spitting-up-blood set piece and two dying people trying to hang another, while the story does attain some complexity and chapter chronology is mixed up.
Once again Tarantino makes frequent use of his favourite word beginning with ‘N’, which, I personally don’t find offensive whatsoever [and from what I gather the majority of black people don’t either – it’s overly sensitive or fascistic white folk who generally do, which is nothing new], but did find it a bit tiresome here. Samuel L. Jackson’s character Major Marquis Warren is certainly insulted throughout, but it’s not as that wasn’t the way African Americans tended to be treated back then, and Tarantino, despite feeling the need to give us a flashback scene where Warren forces a white guy to give him a blowjob, has clearly added a powerful political dimension to his film, while the characters can be seen as a microcosm of America, both old and new, giving The Hateful Eight the depth of a true allegory. Far more uncomfortable is the handling of the one female member of the Eight, who basically exists to be mistreated by the men and laugh at them, and which is a disappointing slip-up in a film which really does have a bit more depth and intelligence then I feel many are giving it credit for, despite seeming crude and brash in Tarantino’s usual manner. Occasional devices, like having Quentin himself contribute some unnecessary narration, don’t quite come off, but he really has become less over the top in his movie borrowings – there are, most notably, several references to The Thing in The Hateful Eight, while its plot is an obvious variant on Rawhide – but the film isn’t packed with this kind of thing, while his direction is very measured and stylish in a subtle way, like having the camera gradually circle round some people talking and then double back.
Cinematographer Robert Richardson shows, like George Stevens did, how good a very widescreen format can be for intimate close-ups in the right hands, though Tarantino can’t resist using, in addition to the music Morricone specifically wrote for the film, three unused [though included on the now hard to find soundtrack album] cues from his score to The Thing, one track from Exorcist 2: The Heretic, and a few songs, though the music all works superbly with the action taking place on the screen, and when it’s not being heard, the eerie sound of the wind outside replaces it. Of course the cast are all superb, with a subtly hilarious Walton Goggins and the always tremendous Jackson standing out. While it really does appear to be dividing people, I reckon that The Hateful Eight may eventually come to be seen as one of Tarantino’s defining works, whether more people get to like it or not. For me, it’s generally a terrific blizzard of great dialogue, fine acting, bloody violence, humour and irony in the man’s best fashion. Now he’s finally made two strong movies in a row again, leaving the cinema, I almost felt like I did when Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega walked out of The Hawthorne Grill in 1994, and I once thought I’d never get anywhere near feeling that way again after a Tarantino film.