Follow Brendan Hodges at
What you love about Tarantino The Hateful Eight has more of. What you hate about him, well, this has more of that too. Violence. Offensive language. Indulgence. By now, you know your mileage on the famously controversial filmmaker—this won’t be the movie to change your mind. This is his second western following Django Unchained, but where that movie’s brush strokes ran wide, The Hateful Eight has a more delicate, thoughtful touch, almost as though spending time in the genre gave him the confidence to do something more daring and ambitious, Tarantino has got his eye on the prize. Whatever missteps he makes here they’re on the path to righteousness. The Hateful Eight is the deepest, smartest, bloodiest, and best directed movie of Quentin Tarantino’s career. Managing to act both as violent grindhouse exploitation and measured allegorical storytelling, these victories that don’t stop it from lingering way too long on weaker sections. Sometimes The Hateful Eight lacks the sparkling, beautifully rhythmic dialogue for which Tarantino is known—uneven, this is two shakes of a lamb’s tail behind his best work.
Some time after the Civil War, a group of eight grizzled gunslingers are caught in a White Walkerian blizzard and seek shelter in a Wyoming haberdashery (a cross between a general goods store and side-of-the-road motel). Hints of Reservoir Dogs abound, it’s as if he experimented with extending the famous bar scene in Inglourious Basterds to three hours. Patience is required, and I suspect some will be turned off by the asked effort on the part of the filmgoer. The Hateful Eight is many things: an atmospherically-enhanced psychological thriller; a sad satire of American prejudice and ideology; a cinematic pressure cooker that gets hotter and hotter ‘til it finally blows. The calm and loquacious first half methodically lays track for a full steam ahead train of pure paranoia and tension. One or more of these eight men aren’t who they say they are, making this a demonicial game of “Clue” that eventually takes you to blood, bath, and beyond.
The suspects are as follows:. Kurt Russell does his best John Wayne impression as John “The Hangman” Ruth, a bounty hunter who always brings in his bodies alive. With him is his bounty Daisy “The Prisoner” Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and they’re soon accompanied by Major Marquis “The Bounty Hunter” Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), stuck in the snow and in need of a way of getting to Red Rock, the closest town. More Tarantino alums are waiting for them at the haberdashery: Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, and Walton Goggins. Following tense introductions and passing accusations, the fuse is lit.
Along with Reservoir Dogs, John Carpenter’s The Thing is an obvious centerpoint of influence. Beyond casting Kurt Russell as John Ruth, Tarantino also gained the esteemed employ of the legendary Ennio Morricone. Coming out of retirement for The Hateful Eight is a major get, and this the first Quentin Tarantino to have an originally composed score instead of his usual hip-hop influenced sampling of various artists. Morricone’s haunting, ominous music doesn’t recall the best days of spaghetti westerns but helps set an ominous tone that seems to sink right into your skin and fester. Pairing Bob Richardson’s massive widescreen vistas of the devilish blizzard with the soft, creepy strings of the score, The Hateful Eight has a thick atmosphere that really puts you in the place.
More than any of his previous movies, Tarantino gloriously celebrates the movieness of movies. With a roadshow version that starts with an epic overture of swelling music like the movies of yesteryear (Lawrence of Arabia, for example), an intermission, and a gorgeous 70mm frame with some of the best photography of the year. The Hateful Eight is his longest, talkiest, most novel or theater-friendly work, but every second is a joyous, gigantic, beaming exclamation point. Movies fucking rule, okay. Every inch of the 70mm super wideframe photography is rich with color and appears almost like liquid. When studying the wrathful face of Samuel L. Jackson in super high resolution celluloid, acting becomes a better special effect than anything in Star Wars.
It hasn’t been since Jackie Brown, almost 20 years ago, that Tarantino has seemed so considerate and thoughtful behind each and every choice. As Paul Thomas Anderson said of the movie, what’s so hard about filming in small spaces is that the director has nowhere to hide. Seemingly on a creative high, Tarantino’s sixth sense for how to turn a single room into a visual and audial fireworks show is simply remarkable. Sure, he cuts to the usual David Lean style vistas to bookend isolated talk-offs, but it acts as an urgent reminder that cinema is all about knowing when to go big and when to stay small. Watch how he carefully choreographed the wide frame so there would always be one, two, three or even four characters lingering in the background.You can’t trust any of them, and yet, like deadly phantoms, they engulf almost every shot.
None of the actual hateful eight emerge as a classic Tarantino character, a major flaw in a movie built around big baddies. However, while cartoon and caricature, this band of untrustworthy, evil characters develop a depth unique to this filmmaker’s filmography. Instead of hyperbolizing every side of a conflict to the obvious extreme—look to Django in Django Unchained being a one note vigilante with a free pass to be “killin’ white folks” while Calvin Candie was a pure-blooded racist so obviously evil he’s dressed like a devil—there’s a sensitivity here absent in Tarantino’s other movies. Rhetoric used around the Civil War sounds depressingly close to headlines today, and Tarantino is unafraid to confront a black character (Sam Jackson’s Warren) with a racist Confederate general (Dern) and show shades of who these characters are as people. Their humanity is not dismissed, however heartless or cruel these men and women are at their cores.
Likewise, when the ethics of justice are explored, that is, the merits of ‘frontier justice” versus the justice of “civilized society”, John Ruth falls easily to the latter. All the same, he doesn’t hesitate to crush Daisy—a woman—in the face. Immediately, our buttons are pushed. She’s a gross villain, but if played by a man instead of the magnetic Jennifer Jason Leigh, we wouldn’t bat an eye. However, his propensity to violence doesn’t stop Ruth from unshackling her to eat meal with dignity. Dialogue calls attention to our notions of gender and race throughout the film, and ultimately, how our biases destroy other people as much as they destroy ourselves. This, the movie powerfully argues, is the essence of America today. Tarantino isn’t scared to make us uncomfortable, and playing in greyscale instead of binary black and white is what lets him do it.