The Hateful Eight

Review by Adam Woodward @AWLies

Directed by

Quentin Tarantino

Starring

Jennifer Jason Leigh Kurt Russell Samuel L Jackson

Anticipation.

‘The 8th film by Quentin Tarantino.’

Enjoyment.

Like the eponymous octet in this shambolic caper, Tarantino is now living on past reputation alone.

In Retrospect.

Roll on number nine…

Quentin Tarantino’s bloody, bloated ensemble western is about as much fun as watching snow melt.

Does Samuel L Jackson have the most menacing laugh in movie history? It’s a question you may find yourself asking at the precise moment he caps off a disarmingly phallocentric, ferociously funny monologue with his trademark cackle. This is by no means the only standout scene in The Hateful Eight, but it’s easily the most memorable – firstly because it brings to mind the Biblical judgement laid down by another great Jackson character and secondly because it signals the start of a deadly standoff between the film’s abhorrent ensemble.

Only Quentin Tarantino could elicit such a spirited performance from such a seasoned pro. Then again, only Quentin Tarantino could make a film like The Hateful Eight. Which is to say that there isn’t another American filmmaker alive who could get away with creating something as brash, overblown and sporadically brilliant as the eighth film by Quentin Tarantino. Not that his snowbound chamber western doesn’t pack a serious punch; there’s just something underwhelming about the whole hot mess.

The Hateful Eight opens with an unavoidably pretentious but nonetheless sublime musical overture that gives centre stage to Ennio Morricone’s suspenseful original score – the majority of which was written for John Carpenter’s The Thing back in 1982 but never used – which is more Hitchcock in tone than Leone. It’s a moment of pure theatre that’s pure Tarantino. It’s also not the only time that the writer/director indulges in formal embellishment, although it is the only occasion where such grandiose gilding enhances the viewing experience. Indeed, for a film that’s being hailed as a momentous comeback for celluloid – a motion picture event in the truest sense – The Hateful Eight is an inauspiciously low-key affair.

We spend the first hour of the film in the company of notorious bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), who’s making tracks for Red Rock, Wyoming, to deposit Jennifer Jason Leigh’s dastardly outlaw, Daisy Domergue. En route, Ruth’s stagecoach picks up wily sonuvabitch Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) followed by goofy sheriff incumbent Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). For the next two hours we’re confined to a remote haberdashery, where our tricksome troupe are forced to wait out a terrible blizzard along with a second, even more dubious crew (played by Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir and Bruce Dern).

As in all of Tarantino’s previous films, scenes exist here solely for the sake of dialogue. Setting aside the (wagon) wheel-spinning tedium of the largely expositional opening hour, the problem in this instance is that there are so many wasted words. In fact, the script is kind of clunky – there’s even a bit where Tarantino starts narrating his own screenplay, not as an essential framing device but because he apparently loves the sounds of his own voice. Inevitably it’s the characters who do most of the talking, and that’s what makes The Hateful Eight so frustrating – behind the smoke screen of lurid anecdotes and cheap slurs, you get the sense that Tarantino actually has something interesting to say about racial prejudice and gender politics in contemporary (by way of post-Civil War) America.

At a time when the Confederate flag can still be found raised outside capitol buildings across America’s southern states, the subversive emphasis Tarantino places on the constantly shifting power balance between the film’s black and white antagonists feels especially prescient. Yet while the socially conscious subtext of Jackson’s incendiary speech marks this as the most proactively progressive QT joint to date, the script too often flatters to deceive.

Favouring the slow-burn over the immediate payoff is fine, but in the same way that making something long doesn’t necessarily make it epic, prolonged foreplay is only stimulating when you’re consistently teasing the right spots. Of course, Tarantino has proven himself in the past to be a master when it comes to delayed gratification. And besides, he isn’t exactly renowned for subtlety and self-restraint, although The Hateful Eight’s powerful final shot shows that he can still deliver big with a simple directorial flourish. It should come as no surprise, then, that when the violence kicks in it does so in quick-fire rifle-blasts to the face – a popular Christmas carol played on a dusty old upright is the cue for Tarantino to cut loose, and he does so in typically provocative style, flipping the frontier genre on its head before slicing its belly and letting its guts spill out over the hardwood floor.

To that end, The Hateful Eight is more murder mystery than revisionist western, with Jackson the film’s maniacal Miss Marple, looking for (or is it concealing?) vital clues in a fresh pot of coffee and a letter from Abraham Lincoln. Right when everything starts to click, however, a miscast cameo appearance becomes yet another reason to rue Tarantino’s tendency to over-season the stew.

He’s not the only weak link here, but it’s ultimately telling that Tarantino’s ego overshadows the exceptional work of several of his longest serving collaborators, most notably the elegant cinematography of Robert Richardson (who lensed Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained) and immaculate production design of Yohei Taneda (who previously worked on Kill Bill: Vol. 1). The bittersweet irony is that while Tarantino’s stock routinely commands the kind of budget that allows him to take his pick of the industry’s best technicians, staging the bulk of the action at close quarters in a single interior setting means he ends up restricting most of the really good stuff to the periphery.

This is what happens when no one is prepared to say ‘no’. You want to shoot on location in Colorado in the middle of winter? Sure. You want to use Ultra Panavision 70? Go for it. You want to split the story into chapters and stretch it over 150 minutes (187 if you include the overture and intermission that accompany the 70mm version)? You got it! That last point is particularly important, because although it’s easy to admire Tarantino’s bravura storytelling – not to mention his moxie in resurrecting a large-format anamorphic film process that’s been dead for 50 years – the schematic structure and derivative narrative he employs makes The Hateful Eight about as nuanced as bloody bootprints in the snow.

On numerous occasions in the past Tarantino has asserted that he plans to retire after his tenth film. We sincerely hope that he reconsiders, but if that does prove to be the case, the silver lining is that he’s significantly lowered the bar for the last two.

Published 17 Dec 2015

Anticipation.

‘The 8th film by Quentin Tarantino.’

Enjoyment.

Like the eponymous octet in this shambolic caper, Tarantino is now living on past reputation alone.

In Retrospect.

Roll on number nine…

Read More

Why Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino’s best movie

By David Jenkins

The director’s own professed black sheep is his most beautiful work.

Eight films to watch before you see The Hateful Eight

By David Hayles

Tales of bloodletting, treachery and demonic possession to whet your appetite for Quentin Tarantino’s latest.

How Quentin Tarantino took inspiration from The Great Silence

By Adam Cook

If you liked The Hateful Eight you’ll love Sergio Corbucci’s 1968 film that inspired it.

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