After troubled beginnings and much fanfare Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, the aptly titled ‘The Hateful Eight’, has come to silver screens everywhere. Returning to the western genre once more Tarantino delivers us a truly unique flick as the renegade director gleefully indulges us in his celluloid fantasies. This does not, however, deem it a masterpiece, for it is not one. This film is many, many, other things though, and it deserves accolades for its acomplishments, but it’s also not an effort that lives up to the infamous director’s previous offerings.
‘The Hateful Eight’ follows John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) who is a bounty hunter trekking through Wyoming with the prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) during a blizzard. Along the way, they reluctantly pick up stragglers, respected rival bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), both notably connected to the Civil War on opposing sides.
On their way to Red Rock, where Domergue is set to hang and Mannix is supposed to become the new sheriff, the four seek shelter at the mountaintop stagecoach stopover Minnie’s Haberdashery. There they find that Minnie has left the business in the hands of Bob (Demian Bichir) the Mexican stable hand so that she may visit friends on the other side of the mountain. Once inside we’re introduced to the remaining three of the Eight through The Hangman’s John Wayne inspired inspection of each. Who is trustworthy? Who is not? We are left with Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a polite Englishman who also claims to be on his way to Red Rock, but as the new hangman of the town. The quiet and seemingly affable Joe Cage (Michael Madsen), is a cattleman/biographer headed to visit his mother. Finally we meet General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a former Confederate leader who shared a Civil War Battlefield with Warren, an infamous and vicious Union soldier who once had a Confederate price on his head.
Let’s break it down shall we?
If you’re a film nerd you’ll find a lot to love in Tarantino’s newest entry. From how it was filmed on an Ultra Panavision 70, a 70mm panoramic format 15% wider than the conventional 35mm standard Panavision format, to the opening overture which just so happens to be a new piece by Ennio Morricone no less, Tarantino flaunts his love of old-school filmmaking here. He utilizes depth and a sense space incredibly well. His style continues to evolve in subtle ways over the years and you can see how his grand love of the old ways influences his creative choices. You might be wondering why the filmmaker chose to use the widest angle possible on a film that is confined to one location for the majority of the runtime, but he deftly moves through the given space of Minnie’s Haberdashery, the one room cabin that acts as a watering hole and waypoint on the side of a mountain in Wyoming. Strangely in this film Tarantino both matures in his filmmaking techniques, and also reverts to his more, indulgent, adolescence stained ways when concerning plot structure and story. Not to say that this film isn’t substantive, it’s a feat itself that the film nears the three hour mark and the pace is never sacrificed ultimately, for it rests on the laurels of engaging writing and committed performances.
Speaking of, the performances here are the entire reason this film works at all. If it were a less credible cast with none of the wit and vile that these hateful participants require, it would be a mess of a movie. Credit goes to the actors here for captivating us as thoroughly as they do, even while portraying themselves as indeed, hateful people, and are yet degrees of likeability higher than what one would expect given their actions and demeanors. Kurt Russell and Samuel L Jackson steal the show as rival bounty hunters in the post Civil War era, but Walton Goggins, who plays a confederate sympathizer and supposed new Sheriff of Red Rock, was a surprising standout among the talent involved. Not all of the Eight get as much screen time as others, but they all add to the bigger picture.Bruce Dern’s role in particular as a curmudgeonly confederate general after the war shines as the setting’s best embellishment. He rarely moves from the point at which we meet him, and he isn’t the main attraction by far, but he serves his purpose for the story quite well. Jennifer Jason Leigh also deserves praise for her range in villainy, from her dead eyed stares to her defiant cackling after getting elbowed in the face by Kurt Russell’s Ruth she proves to be just as captivating as the rest, if not more.
This entry in QT’s legacy is a fine addition overall, but it’s runtime leaves something to be desired. At roughly three hours long the film’s length can be seriously felt when nearing the end of the flick. Needless to say, I’m no Oscar winning writer or director here, but it feels as though the film really didn’t need to be quite this long. A half hour could be cut and the story would still work.
This film nudges too far into excess for my palette, in terms of intention and how it plays out in the story and what that means for the tale we’re being told. Particularly one scene with Samuel L Jackson’s flashback killing of an offscreen character in a brutal and pervasive manner that divulges Tarantino’s weirdest indulgences as a storyteller.
It’s not that the ultra violent sequences are shocking because of what’s shown (and it is gruesome) but rather it is because it heavily distracts from the established tension and character building that took up the last hour of screentime, only to be thrown to the way side so quickly. I was rather invested in the first half of the film, but the second half, in my mind, undermines the entirety of the first half of the story. Who poisoned the coffee again? I sincerely cannot remember. I rather liked the mysterious banter and wit among the curious nature of the motivations of these people, are they friend or foe? I suppose the film almost demands a second viewing to better understand the picture as a whole, but for the first time in a long time, I’m not incredibly excited to see this Tarantino film again. I will. I just know I can wait until the title hits Netflix or video release.
Final Score: 3/5