Review: The Hateful Eight
Writer/director Quentin Tarantino needs no introduction. In the opening moments of his latest film, The Hateful Eight, the screen reads “the 8th film by Quentin Tarantino”, proudly self proclaiming that his film is as monumental and as much of a cinematic landmark as that little space movie (the 7th in that series) barraging the cineplexes these days. Love his films or hate them, (and this particular critic is more in the former camp), you can’t deny that their theatrical releases are met with wonderment.
Mainstream movie lovers adore him and his films because Tarantino is a movie lover himself, and it shows. Had Me and Earl and the Dying Girl presented its titular characters Greg and Earl as grown man-children, chances are they would have ended up making films just like QT. The films in his early repertoire are unabashed pastiche and nods to the classic films and film genres the writer/director spent his teenage years pouring over. And, judging by his filmography, none were more adored than that of the spaghetti Western. Thus, for his eighth film, the third in his unique brand of revisionist history cycle, he has constructed a well crafted Western, shot on 70mm film and accompanied by an extended overture and intermission, in a loving nod to epic film dramas of the past. Close to three hours in length, the film drags in its final chapter but is consistently entertaining and worth watching in its entire “roadshow” version.
Conceptually conceived as a sort of Django Unchained sequel, The Hateful Eight is a reimagining of the Northern and Southern relations post American Civil War by way of an Agatha Christie mystery. Like Reservoir Dogs, much of this story takes place when a group of criminal lowlifes are trapped in a confined space trying to suss out which of the group can be trusted.
In this narrative, the confined space is Minnie’s Haberdashery, an inn where, during a spectacular blizzard, the nominal “hateful eight” lie in wait. Wait for what, you ask? Well John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell, who also appeared in Tarantino’s Death Proof) is escorting wanted killer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, deliciously chewing the scenery) to a nearby town in order to collect her ransom. Their accidental travelling companions are fellow bounty hunter, and former Civil War Union fighter, Major Marquis Warren (Tarantino favorite Samuel L. Jackson) and newly appointed racist Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). Their cryptic Haberdashery cohabitants include sly Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir from TV’s The Bridge), professional hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth, Tarantino alum from Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs), former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (acting legend Bruce Dern), and aloof Joe Gage (Michael Madsen, another Tarantino casting treasure). Before long Warren is convinced that somebody at the inn is not who they say they are, and, acting as the Detective Poirot, he sets upon discovering who may be angling for the release of Domergue.
It is during this terse and tension filled first half where the film truly excels. Expertly edited by Fred Raskin and beautifully shot by Robert Richardson, it is very much the cinematic companion to the tavern scene in Tarantino’s own Inglorious Basterds. Once the death count escalates in the second half and the proceedings become more thinly veiled to be that about present day racial tensions, however, the film loses steam. One begins to wonder about the need for the excessively misogynistic and horrifically abusive treatment towards the lone female lead character and the recycled score (from Inglorious Basterds, no less) by Ennio Morricone. Nevertheless there is much to love in The Hateful Eight.