The cinematically obsessed and possibly insane Quentin Tarantino is back just in time for Christmas and unsurprisingly, he’s up to his old tricks. Since Django wasn’t enough to scratch the genre-hopping director’s itch, he’s gone back to the West again. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t feel like a retread…or at least not one of Django Unchained anyways. As usual QT’s starting point for his latest film are other films. In this case, he’s combining the chilly morality of winter Westerns like The Great Silence or McCabe And Mrs. Miller with the artic paranoia of The Thing and the claustrophobic mind games of Reservoir Dogs. The result is an epic of sorts. A sprawling 70mm Western that takes place primarily in a single location, yet uses every inch of the oversized frames to tell a nasty, back-stabbing tale. It’s not Tarantino’s most ambitious movie, but it is a fascinating one that toys will all sorts of troubling notions surrounding violence and morality through jet black comedy that stings. Yep, its’ a Tarantino movie alight, just in time for the holidays.
Kurt Russell takes top billing as a blowhard bounty hunter with a moustache as big as his mouth. He’s riding through a snowstorm in a stagecoach with an expensive bounty (Jennifer Jason Leigh) that he plans to see hanged, when he runs into Samuel L. Jackson’s bounty hunter sitting on his own pile of valuable corpses looking for a ride. They’re soon joined by Walton Goggins, playing the dingbat future sheriff of the town they are both heading towards. However, a raging snowstorm forces them to stay in an isolated cabin filled with another gang of intriguing misfits. Bruce Dern plays a former civil war general, Tim Roth plays an aggressively British hangman, and Michael Madsen pops up as a very Michael Madsen-esque mysterious cowboy. It’s instantly clear that this is a dangerous bunch filled with secrets. Trouble is afoot now that they are all trapped together with a variety of guns and loose morals. Yep, it’s going to be a bloodbath…eventually.Tarantino takes his time setting the table for
Tarantino takes his time setting the table for The Hateful Eight. The first half of the film gradually introduces all the characters (some truthfully, some not) as well as the desolate situation. The gloriously wide and humblingly detailed 70mm frames initially establish a miserable and dangerous snow-covered landscape, but soon the rich images are used for smaller and more intriguing means. At times, Tarantino lingers on faces with flickers of expression filling the screen and speaking volumes. Or he uses the added widescreen real estate to tell separate stories in the foreground and background to intriguing effect. The tension is palpable, the world nasty and unpredictable. It all peaks with a twisted storytelling session that crams almost as much as Quentin had to say about race in Django: Unchained into a single round of barbed dialogue that explodes into the first act of overt violence in the film. Then it’s time for intermission.
Yep, as you might have heard Tarantino is rolling out The Hateful Eight like an old time epic along the lines of Citizen Kane. Come to the roadshow screening and you’ll get a stunning 70mm presentation, a fantastic overture of Ennio Morricone’s original score (which Tarantino supplemented with outtakes from Morricone’s score for The Thing), and an intermission that actually suits the storytelling style of the piece. After teasing, testing, and toying with the audience for the first half of his film, The Hateful Eight explodes into an utter bloodbath in the second act. Every character comes with hidden secrets (revealed through QT’s patented non-linear storytelling) and the tensions all boil over into explosions of violence. Yet none of it feels repetitive or overblown because Tarantino uses the second half of his film to explore the various types of onscreen violence and what they provoke out of audiences. Sometimes the explosions of blood offer silly slapstick, sometimes they are desperately shocking. Sometimes they come through careful build up, other times the violence explodes out of nowhere. It’s all in good fun until it’s not and then it’s fun again. Eventually, it all wraps up on a final murder that’s the most morally and narratively justified, yet viscerally the most difficult to watch. It’s a challenging exploration in violence from a filmmaker endlessly fascinated by the cinematic potential of such things.
The characters and performances are obviously wonderful. This corrupt world of untrustworthy a-holes is prime Tarantino material, milked for maximum comedic and dramatic value by the writer and his cast. Kurt Russell amusingly delivers a performance similar to his iconic turn in Big Trouble In Little China, playing the same type of swaggering moron who believes his own hype and hilariously speaks like John Wayne. Samuel L. Jackson gets his meatiest role from Tarantino in years and dives into his dirty monologues with a sense of glee that’s infectious. Walton Goggins opens the movie with what initially seems like a one-note, bonehead role then gradually transforms into the moral heart of an immoral story. Madsen, Roth, and Dern are all cast to type and deliver as only they can (which is to say, pretty damn well). Channing Tatum does a little scene-stealing when he gets the chance, but the performance of the film likely belongs to Jennifer Jason Leigh. Predominantly a silent role until gears shift in the grand finale, Leigh plays it close the chest, yet always displays far more characterization and emotion on her face n secret than most actors are capable of in the open. Her character can seem troublingly victimized at first, but it’s all deliberate misdirection and when Leigh finally gets to burst out of her silent shell, she steals away the film in the process.
Now, all that being said The Hateful Eight is not a perfect film (nor is any other Tarantino production). The big criticism is simply that it’s far too damn long. Sure, Tarantino makes use of that hefty running time by piling plot twists ontop of plot twists and masterfully building tension to a breaking point. Yet it still feels overly excessive and more than a little indulgent (especially when Quentin himself starts narrating one sequence for no particular reason). Sure, excess and indulgence is a big part of the charm of QT’s finest efforts, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t tone things down and The Hateful Eight certainly would have benefitted from some trimming. Likewise, after the ambitious historical fiction of his last two outings, some might be disappointed by the comparative simplicity of this violent morality tale. This is not Tarantino’s finest film, yet at the same time it’s also cracking entertainment and a damn fine bit of genre movie bliss. Love him or loath him, there’s no denying that Tarantino has a gift for a certain brand of nasty entertainment that The Hateful Eight delivers in spades. It’s a vicious, unpredictable, bloody, beautifully shot, and expertly acted flick so brazenly entertaining and filthily intelligent that it makes the films playing in neighbouring theaters feel lifeless and beige. God-willing Tarantino doesn’t actually stick to his “ten films and retire” proclamations because he seems to be getting better and it would be a shame to think there are only two of his movies left to look forward to. The movie world sadly be a much tamer place without him and that’s not even remotely a good thing.