The Hateful Eight

That trail of blood following the stagecoach is a bad omen, I’m afraid.

While watching The Hateful Eight–advertised as the eighth film by Quentin Tarantino for added symbolism–it occurred to me that, while no one else makes films quite like Tarantino, the man himself has become somewhat predictable. This movie contains many of the attributes I’ve come to expect from Tarantino’s work: dividing the picture into chapters; lengthy (and somewhat bloated) dialogue; non-linear story telling; excessive violence; endless swearing (including frequent use of the “n-word”); and odd shots of feet. Even the cast is largely made up of Tarantino alumni: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern. Perhaps it’s a good thing that Tarantino intends to retire after making ten films; if his trends persist, I fear his last two movies will be the subject of guess-the-Tarantino-trope drinking games.

But no matter. Predictability aside; is The Hateful Eight any good? Well, that depends. For starters, your mileage is going to vary largely based on how much violence and foul language you want out of cinema, as those are the qualities that truly dominate the picture. Simply put, this is a bloody film: there are shootings and beatings and poisonings and vomiting and mutilation and hangings. This might very well be Tarantino’s most vicious movie to date, which is really saying something. And the language goes hand-in-hand with the gore. I’d really like to see a tally of all the curse words used in this movie and how frequently they appear; not to mention some lines that describe positively vulgar actions. This dialogue is really not for the faint of heart. These aspects of the movie really do cast a shadow over everything else (they’re the parts that immedimately come to mind when I reflect on it); which is not exactly an ideal situation. Violence and language should supplement a film, not the other way around.

That’s not to say, though, that there isn’t more to appreciate here: Tarantino presents a unique hybrid of the Western and murder-mystery genres; a story of bandits, outlaws, bounty hunters, and former rebels trapped together in the mountains of Wyoming during a harsh blizzard; all of them murderous, not all of them honest. It creates a noteworthy mood of wintry claustrophobia and suspicion that gives it a thematic kinship with the likes of 2011’s The Grey* and 1982’s The Thing. Apart from this ambience, the best aspects about this story are the characters populating it. There are certainly some colorful personalities amongst the titular Hateful Eight, and never let it be said that Tarantino can’t make individuals truly come alive on screen. The highlights are Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell (who are both wonderfully over the top and who both appear to be having a ball making this movie), although all are memorable. It’s a good sign in cinema when we enjoy seeing characters bounce off each other, and that’s certainly true with The Hateful Eight.

Unfortunately, the plot, despite a wonderful setup, becomes somewhat underwhelming over the course of the movie. For all of the depth and paranoia Tarantino could have mined given the scenario he presents; the actual mystery is solved pretty smoothly and not all that satisfyingly. Essentially, one character figures out most of the truth with seemingly too many convenient pieces of information at his disposal; and what little he doesn’t put together is quickly resolved mere moments later. It almost feels as though Tarantino spent so much time introducing these characters, setting up this premise, having near endless bits of dialogue, and depicting so much violence that he doesn’t have enough time to actually have any fun with the story before reaching the conclusion. There’s supposed to be a longer cut of this movie being shown in certain theaters (I saw the more general theatrical release); perhaps in that version Tarantino handles the narrative a little better, pacing the mystery a bit more slowly and making the resolution more cathartic. As it stands, it’s passable, but nothing spectacular.

In his previous two films–Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained–Tarantino explored historical instances of oppression (Jews in the Holocaust in the former and the enslavement of African Americans in the latter)**. How respectfully he handled either instance is up for debate. In some sense he repeats this approach in The Hateful Eight, again exploring discrimination against African Americans. However, for much of the running time of the movie this theme competes with the main narrative thread rather than complementing it, and as such it feels more awkward than Django Unchained. On the other hand, there are a handful of moments in the movie that are slightly more mature in terms of race relations than what he presented in Django Unchained. That’s an enjoyable step in the right direction, in my opinion. If only Tarantino can make it more fluid next time. It’s worth noting that there was seemingly another opportunity in this film to examine oppression: in this case that of women. The principal antagonist in this story is a woman (played by Jennifer Leigh) who spends much of the film getting beaten or shot at. Tarantino is no stranger to examining feminism in his movies (see Kill Bill) but he doesn’t really offer any commentary on it here. Leigh’s character is largely unsympathetic, and the film doesn’t lead you to believe that any of the men who perform acts of violence on her are particularly awful for doing so. I think there was a missed opportunity here.

The last part of this movie that I’ll mention is that legendary composer Ennio Morricone provided the score. As someone who is an avid fan of his work on The Dollars Trilogy, I was very interested in hearing the music for this film. He doesn’t disappoint; his score is appropriately dark and moody, though somewhat less prominent than one might expect. That said, it accentuates what it ought to accentuate, and so I can’t complain. As an interesting bit of trivia, some of his work from The Thing is also in the movie (thus giving The Hateful Eight a more explicit connection to that film, along with Kurt Russell appearing in both), and it works as well for bounty hunters in Wyoming as it did for aliens in Antarctica.

To sum it up, The Hateful Eight is not as good as it could have been. Despite a great premise and interesting characters, it suffers from Tarantino’s own style getting in the way of the story he was trying to tell. I do hope that, for however many films he has left, Tarantino can work to transcend his typical approach enough in order to focus on what’s most important: narrative. Nevertheless, this is a very distinctive movie in this day and age; and, provided that you can handle the intensity, it is certainly worth a watch.

*A very underrated movie.

**Maybe this is his own way of dealing with white guilt?


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