The Hateful Eight (2015)
No One Comes Up Here Without a Damn Good Reason
If you’ve been following high-profile director Quentin Tarantino’s illustrious career, you’re probably already aware that his most successful films (in terms of profit that is) have been his history-bending hits Django Unchained (2012) and Inglourious Basterds (2009). Billed as a Western, Tarantino’s eighth feature, fittingly titled The Hateful Eight, doesn’t rewrite history. Instead the picture works as bitter, bone-gnawing experience with the innovative filmmaker crafting his most nerve-racking offering yet. Sure it might be set in the Wild, Wild West but patrons expecting a Sergio Leone-style epic might be utterly disappointed. Captured in Ultra Panavision 70 (the 11th movie to be photographed in this format, the first since Khartoum in 1966), it’s safe to assume that Tarantino’s latest will feature several shots of lush outdoor scenery and vast landscapes in order to make use of its anamorphic lenses. Wrong again as The Hateful Eight is an intimate chamber piece, the majority of the narrative taking place in the confines of a haberdashery with the blood-soaked thriller focusing on dialogue rather than action. Furthermore, if one wishes to watch the roadshow version (the largest 70mm release in over twenty years), you’ll be looking at a runtime north of three hours, complete with a physical programme, an excellent tone-setting overture and an impeccably timed intermission.
To understand Tarantino’s creative choices here, one must first explore the origins of the film. For one thing The Hateful Eight was originally performed for live theater, so it’s best to approach the material as if watching a ‘whodunit’ type of play. After the initial script leaked online in January 2014, an angry Tarantino publicly declared that he was abandoning the project. That’s until critic Elvis Mitchell convinced him to stage a live performance of the piece at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, which reignited Tarantino’s enthusiasm for the material and the rest folks is history. As for shooting in Ultra Panavision 70, it’s clear that celluloid defender Tarantino wants to get people excited about venturing out to see a film in theaters again and the roadshow version of The Hateful Eight does exactly that. Laced with Tarantino’s usual tics and idiosyncrasies, this slow boiler suggests that the talented 52-year-old is still growing and developing as an artist; here’s hoping that he revisits the horror genre again somewhere down the line!
The Hateful Eight takes place several years after the Civil War and opens with a stagecoach dashing through the wintry Wyoming terrain. Inside, John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) is handcuffed to his prisoner, the dastardly Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whom he is escorting to Red Rock where she will hang. Along the way, they encounter two strangers: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a black former union soldier turned infamous bounty hunter (who’s lugging around his own collection of carcases to cash in), and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a southern renegade who claims to be Red Rock’s soon-to-be Sheriff. When the weather worsens and a blizzard catches up to the horse-and-carriage, Ruth, Domergue, Warren, Mannix and their driver, a man named O.B. Jackson (James Parks), seek refuge at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a traveler stopover on a mountain pass. Upon arrival the band are greeted by a Mexican with the unlikely name of Bob (Demián Bichir) who claims he’s taking care of Minnie’s while she’s away visiting her mother. There, they also meet three other suspicious blow-ins: Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the supposed hangman of Red Rock, cowpuncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). As the storm engulfs the mountainside stopover, these eight notorious strangers (seeking to uncover hidden motives and true identities) quickly discover that they mightn’t make it through the night.
Before we resume, let me point out that this movie is long — 187 minutes to be exact or 167 in its general release form. It’s the writer-director’s longest picture to date. With that being said however, the film never drags, (okay, the set-up is a little drawn out and self-indulgent), but the narrative is broken into six chapters, each with an apparent sense of purpose — to introduce and establish the characters then later subvert those expectations — every slice running for approximately the same amount of time. Could the flick have done with some tightening? Yeah sure, but in all honesty, this one’s not as grueling as it sounds. Incidentally, with so much of the story set in the confines of a single room, this Western chiller gives off a claustrophobic, cold sorta atmosphere, it’s as if viewers are suffering through hypothermia or paranoia themselves. In addition, there are always two plays happening at once (there’s action in the foreground while characters are dealing with something else in the back).
Although ‘the eight’ are trapped for the majority of the story, this isn’t to say that the cinematography by frequent Tarantino collaborator Robert Richardson, Django Unchained (2012), isn’t utterly fantastic. In fact, it’s better than fantastic; it’s absolutely stunning and worthy of Oscar recognition. By the same token, the unnerving score by legendary composer Ennio Morricone, Inglourious Basterds (2009), feels both timeless and grandiose with Morricone capturing the narrative’s foreboding nature in one of the year’s best compositions.
With cinema’s favorite cinephile claiming that John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) served as an influence on The Hateful Eight (both are about characters ‘snowed in’ in a hostile environment), the flick’s second half takes a dark horror-ish turn and gets rather nasty with Minnie’s Haberdashery turning into Minnie’s Slaughterhouse (I guess this is a Quentin Tarantino film after all, so patrons know exactly what to expect). Several have criticized the movie for being overly misogynistic with the character of Daisy Domergue finding herself on the receiving end of a lot of violence (she’s humiliated and brutalized), but again, this is Tarantino we’re talking about, the guy’s written some of the ballsiest women to have ever graced our screens — The Bride (Uma Thurman) from Kill Bill (2003-2004) or Pam Grier’s Jackie Brown for instance — I think people are just looking for something to complain about.
Don’t expect an overly intricate plot either as this is Tarantino’s simplest story to date, on the other hand it’s arguably his most complex. You see, this taut mystery comes across as a ploy to examine a torn, post Civil War society, one that’s overflowing with rampant racial tension whilst simultaneously working as an allegory for the racial prejudice that’s still prevalent today; it also gives Tarantino free reign to justifiably throw the N-word around whenever he pleases. That being the case, Samuel L. Jackson’s Warren is the personification of everything that the whites feared about black males in the 1800s, Mannix’s line ‘Cuz when n****** are scared, that’s when white folks are safe’ solidifying this statement. As luck would have it, Warren carries with him, a letter allegedly written by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, which brings him a smidgen of respect from the other white men cooped up in the cabin, Warren later rebutting Mannix’s claim by stating ‘the only time black folks is safe, is when white folks is disarmed.’ Any which way, the picture’s racially charged themes can certainly spark up a significant discussion.
Just like Tarantino’s previous seven outings, The Hateful Eight is a rip-roaring ensemble piece. Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction (1994), has always sounded ‘cool’ reading Tarantino’s dialogue and The Hateful Eight is no different with Jackson chewing the scenery as Major Marquis Warren, a character layered with vengeance and racial motivated anger. 64-year-old Kurt Russell, Bone Tomahawk (2015), dons some fine whiskers as the unkempt ‘Hangman’ John Ruth, delivering a hearty John Wayne-esque performance (pure and simple, his splendid beard and mustache combo are intended to been seen on the widest screen possible). Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Machinist (2004), holds her own as the despicable Daisy Domergue, her peerless expression and sinister bloody grin echoing long after the final credits have rolled (Leigh’s haunting rendition of the Aussie folk song ‘Jim Jones at Botany Bay’ isn’t half bad either). Leigh takes it like a trooper here as she’s mercilessly knocked around in order to explore the bigotry of the era. Oddly enough, Ruth and Domergue share a twisted father-daughter-like relationship that keeps viewers on their toes; in one scene Ruth is carefully assisting Domergue down from a coach then in another he’s dousing her face with a hot pot of stew. Walton Goggins, American Ultra (2015), is visibly having a great time as Chris Mannix, his presence as the self-proclaimed Sheriff of Red Rock adding a priceless touch to this all-you-can-eat buffet of villainy. Tim Roth’s, Reservoir Dogs (1992), spiffy turn as the British hangman Oswaldo Mobray is awfully amusing to say the least while Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street (2012), pops up for some fun along the way too.
A beautiful, violent, tense experience, The Hateful Eight delivers Tarantino’s usual whip-sharp dialogue along with some top-notch technical achievements and a number of wonderfully eccentric performances. Borrowing several elements from his own oeuvre (think Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Django Unchained (2012) with a hint of the Kill Bill pics), The Hateful Eight is the filmmaker’s bleakest, slickest and most tonally consistent film to date. While it’s certainly not for everyone (again, treat it like a theatrical stage show), The Hateful Eight plainly affirms that Tarantino is still at the top of his game. So, (in the most Australian way possible) I’ll finish off by stating: Mate. Don’t hate ‘The Eight,’ it’s bloody great!
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
The Hateful Eight is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia