What I might admire most of all about Quentin Tarantino is his honesty when it comes to violence in his movies. When asked as to why there is so much bloodshed in his films, he didn’t give a profound answer about how it symbolizes human ferocity or Biblical tales. He simply replied “Because it’s so much fun”.
The Hateful Eight could be his most violent film yet, though this is not the only way in which it his most, well, Tarantino-esque. It features many of the elements that have made his previous pictures great, and people seem somewhat split on the final product, seeming to find it either tiresome, or one of his best movies so far. I subscribe to the latter mindset.
Our story begins a few years after the Civil War. Through a series of circumstances, the following people end up trapped inside the same remote lodge during a heavy blizzard: a vicious bounty hunter named John Ruth (Kurt Russell), his valuable bounty in the form of the nutty fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a polite British man named Oswaldo (Tim Roth), a cowardly soon-to-be sheriff named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a Mexican who goes by “Bob” (Demián Bichir), a cowboy named Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), an elderly general (Bruce Dern), Ruth’s driver O.B. (James Parks), and last but not least, skilled and mysterious bounty hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), who repeatedly claims to have connections with Lincoln himself. You can guess by his skin tone whether or not the others have an easy time believing him.
Days pass and the storm worsens. And as these people learn more and more about each other’s secrets and what previous connections they unexpectedly have, the mood inside the quaint little cabin gets less than friendly. I’m not gonna give too many more details away, of course, but I must say this: if your favorite Tarantino movie is Reservoir Dogs, this will probably be your favorite Tarantino movie since then.
As The Hateful Eight starts off, there are several drawn-out dialogue scenes that may rely too heavily on the tell-don’t-show rule and be too long for the average moviegoer, but you get so absorbed by the actors and their interplay that it’s rarely a bother. It also makes it all the more satisfying when Tarantino’s trademark violence finally does show up; it’s like being a child waiting for Christmas. You cannot get presents all year long.
The lengthy shots and dragged-out scenes might also be excused once you see them as callbacks to the Westerns of Sergio Leone, who would also create a sense of increasing tension by letting his shots linger for as long as possible. It doesn’t always work for neither Leone nor Tarantino. I thought the drawn-out moments in The Hateful Eight were far more interesting than the dinner party scene in Django Unchained, just as I feel that Leone’s long shots got signficantly less effective in Once Upon a Time in America compared to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Sometimes it does work, though, and this be one of those times; much of it having to do with how terrific all the characters are and how the true nature of each of ’em unveils itself as the plot moves forth.
Speaking of Leone’s Westerns, The Hateful Eight is indeed a love letter to that very era of film, though not to the extent people expected. Ennio Morricone is behind the film’s score and it could not be mistaken for anyone else’s work. Evoking memories of the classic Spaghetti Westerns that took the world of cinema by storm in the 60’s, Morricone’s music suits the film as neatly as the actors fit their costumes. He is up for an Oscar as we speak, which makes this quite the grand comeback. But I’m still not forgiving the Academy for snubbing poor Samuel L. Jackson in favor of yet another white actor whose film I doubt anyone even saw (looking at you, “Bryan Cranston in Trumbo“).
Because I’ll be damned twice over if this isn’t the strongest performance Sam Jackson’s ever given. He doesn’t do any of the classic “Oscar bait” stuff that many other actors do like cry and scream a lot in dramatic scenes – something DiCaprio has been somewhat mocked for, following The Revenant – and instead just creates a deep, funny, intimidating and sometimes unpredictable character. One who does an equally a great job and actually is up for an Oscar is Jennifer Jason Leigh, and she has earned herself both the nomination and the win in my book. Across the board, I’d say the acting in this film is nothing less than marvelous, making all characters encapsulating in spite of being despicable and “hateful” to a respective degree. I even stomached the brief cameo from Channing Tatum (very much wanting to see how his fangirls react to the way his cameo “ends” in this particular flick).
The cast is clearly well-directed and their interactions have that classic Tarantino touch where even the lengthy moments have a degree of either comedy or escalating intensity to them. In some scenes, Tarantino also manages to work in a handful of clues as to what will transpire later in the story, whether it be something explicit or a subtle background event during one of Jackson’s typical “speeches that end with a gun being fired”. The cinematography throughout it all is commendable.
Another thing about The Hateful Eight that’s got “Tarantino” written all over it is of course how gloriously unconventional the whole thing is – often unpredictably so. A narrator will randomly appear to explain to us what’s going on, despite no such element having been in the film prior to that point, and sometimes the loud Morricone music will suddenly cut off as the scene itself cuts to another location and there’s nothing but dialogue and ambience. With any other director, these would all be jarring mistakes. With Tarantino, you know it was deliberate and simply his way of playing with the medium to troll everyone – just how we love him.
Add to that some hilarious dialogue, a relentless commentary on many things American, brilliant characters, plus excessive quantities of extreme violence achieved entirely via old-fashioned special effects and you’ve got yourself another one of Quentin’s greats. In a time where more and more Hollywood action films, romantic comedies, Hunger Games wannabes and whatever-else are starting to look and feel the same to me, it is always nice when someone as convention-breaking and blood-thirsty as Tarantino resurfaces.
The Hateful Eight is a somewhat slow but promising film that becomes good, gets great and ends up excellent, and since its eventual greatness would come to neutralize the few things I had problems with, I am glad to ultimately award this film a 5/5. I’m also glad, considering the film’s aspect ratio, that I got to see it on the only sufficiently wide screen my local theater owns. I partially wish I could have attended a 70 mm film screening as well, since it was shot in that format and several US theaters installed such projectors specifically for the release of this movie’s release back in December. As it is, Tarantino’s choice seems somewhat pointless.