Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern
You’re unlikely to see another film this year that’s as pleased with itself as The Hateful Eight. “The Weinstein Company Presents The 8th Film By Quentin Tarantino” reads the bold, blazing typeface of the opening scroll, prematurely passing the film on into legend before also proudly pronouncing that it has been shot in Ultra Panavision 70, a process that’s as arcane as it is archaic, and which hasn’t been used since the mid-60s.
This is Tarantino trying to turn cinematic experience into an event. And if you’re lucky enough to see The Hateful Eight in its 70mm format (complete with midway interval), then it’ll undoubtedly have an attention-grabbing air of grandeur. For those watching it in the more widely available digital presentation, however, this big and bloody quasi-western smacks more of Tarantino grandstanding than reaching for greatness.Never is this truer than in the film’s heavy-footed first act (Chapters 1 & 2 of 6), which follows the progression of a stagecoach that’s hurtling through the wintery Wyoming countryside, determined to outrun the blizzard building behind it and destined for the town of Red Rock. Inside are the monstrously moustachioed bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell), and his fugitive prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Ruth’s nickname is “The Hangman”, as instead of killing his bounties he prefers to watch them hang, a mantra not shared by fellow gun for hire Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), who, along with former Lost-Causer Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins, great), hitches a ride with Ruth in an attempt to escape the ensuing snowstorm.
For all its immersive beauty – Tarantino, aided by Robert Richardson‘s captivating cinematography, expertly utilises his ultra-wide lens to capture the imposing majesty of the Wyoming Mountains – there’s a stale air of self-indulgence in the set-up. The pace is patience testing; the dialogue almost devoid of the witty barbarisms we recognise as quintessential Quentin, and too heavily focused on exposition that’s as gratuitous as Ruth’s facial hair.Only when we reach the refuge of Minnie’s Haberdashery, and are introduced to the other four inglorious bastards that make up the titular octad – Mexican Bob (Demián Bichir), who claims to be looking after the lodge while Minnie is away; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth, fantastic), the eccentric hangman of Red Rock; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen, forgettable), a brooding cowboy; and aging general Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) – does the film finally find its feet. Cue dirty dealings, double-crosses, and a deluge of blood and brain matter.
Tarantino has always triumphed in teasing out the tension of his tales, and here his ludic style thrives in channelling the growing hostility that develops between this collection of nefarious individuals during the 3rd & 4th chapters. Though set in the year’s following the Civil War and abolition of slavery, the racial tensions of the time continued to reverberate throughout America – as they do, tragically, to this day – and Tarantino echoes this in his script; there are particularly pointed political reflections in the palpable exchanges between Samuel L. Jackson’s Union Officer and Bruce Dern’s Confederate General. While the slowly thickening plot encourages tricky tests of our empathy; the broad photography, juxtaposed with Ennio Morricone’s magnificently skulking score, impishly playing with our perceptions of certain characters and practically forcing our eyes to constantly dart around the screen in a search for clues – as ever, the performances of Tarantino’s ensemble are tremendous, with Jennifer Jason Leigh standing out as the dastardly Daisy.The Thing is an obvious source of inspiration (both films focus on the claustrophobic paranoia that develops between a group of people stranded together in a snow-covered hell), but more often than not Tarantino looks to be trying to emulate elements of his own oeuvre here. Indeed, the film The Hateful Eight most resembles is the director’s own debut, Reservoir Dogs. The difference here is the scale, which is noticeably bigger, but in no way better.
As we stagger towards the inevitably savage conclusion, any intelligence displayed by the filmmaker in the film’s midsection is shot away by a succession of ferocious firefights that seem more to mimic the work of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah instead of paying homage to them. It’s great fun – Jackson makes magnetic use of the scripts deviously dark banter – but unlike Tarantino’s far superior seventh film Django Unchained, also fundamentally forgettable. For while he may still be happy to revel in endless bouts of exuberant exploitation, it’s hard not to hope that from now on he’ll aim for something a bit more effective.