THE HATEFUL EIGHT: A Beautiful and Brutal Masterpiece from Tarantino

by Jon Partridge

During The Hateful Eight, Samuel L. Jackson’s character Major Warren utters, “Let’s slow it down. Let’s slow it way down.” It may very well be Tarantino’s mantra for this, his eighth directorial outing. It’s a film that not only indulges his loquacious qualities but perhaps shows the filmmaker at his most patient, bottling up some volatile characters and building tension before unleashing his trademark brand of bloody retribution. Facilitating this indulgence is a run-time of nearly 3 hours; the film’s Roadshow version (which is reviewed here) contains an extra 12 minutes as well as an overture and intermission, a throwback to the cinema of old, doubly so with its presentation in glorious Ultra Panavision 70.

Several years after the end of the American Civil War, we join John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter escorting Daisy “The Prisoner” Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) through a snow covered Wyoming to the town of Red Rock to be tried and hanged for her crimes. En route, his carriage picks up two fellow travelers, Marquis “The Bounty Hunter” Warren (Jackson), and Chris “The Sheriff” Mannix (Walton Goggins), both making their way to the same settlement. With a blizzard closing in, they are forced to take shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they find four other gentlemen already secluded from the cold: Bob “The Mexican”(Demián Bichir) minding the establishment in Minnie’s absence; Oswaldo “The Little Man” Mobray (John Roth), Red Rock’s Hangman; Joe “The Cow Puncher” Gage (Michael Madsen), a man on his way home to visit his mother; and old General Sanford “The Confederate” Smithers (Bruce Dern). Ruth, aware of the large bounty on Domergue’s head as well as a potential plot to free her, is immediately suspicious of his co-habitants. As stories are told and connections are made, mistrust mounts; and as the storm rages outside, cabin fever inside forces the men against each other.

Like his last feature Django Unchained, Tarantino looks to the old West for his setting, a genre that complements the verbose language, questionable morals, and gritty violence in his writing. While it feels like a authentic Western, albeit with a Tarantino streak, this endeavor takes on more of an Agatha Christie feel, only with discourse in a drawing room replaced by coarse exchanges in a remote, one roomed cabin. There is also no investigator, just scoundrels of varying degrees each visiting old-school justice against one another, in some cases in relation to Domergue’s capture, in others to settle some more personal scores.

There is plenty to engage with, but the film does feel indulgent; Tarantino loses himself in his writing and dialogue, and it is frankly a wonderful thing. It takes on a luxurious quality the deeper you go, and the eventual payoff as mayhem breaks loose is only the more rewarding for it. The film meanders, conversations ebb and flow, they crossover and loop back on themselves. But the journey the film takes is akin to taking the scenic route, and what a vista Tarantino creates. The first half heaps fuel repeatedly on the powder keg that is Minnie’s Haberdashery, and the second half sees it ignite, bringing the Tarantino hallmarks of gleeful violence, flashbacks, and other narrative devices to the fore.

As is the focus of so many of his films, TH8 looks at themes of revenge, or more specifically here, justice, with characters meeting it out, evading it, or perverting it to their own ends or beliefs. The film’s setting, several years after the Civil War, is a perfect one, with new laws and ideals still being formed. The era and characters allow the film to touch on the North/South divide, slavery and the aforementioned theme of justice, which manifests as revenge, frontier justice, and the honest to good lawful type. The characters are somewhat simply written and could be perceived as caricatures, but the actors that fill their shoes and what they represent elevate them. This is a fractured America and the characters within it are perfect for the themes the film explores.

As ever, Tarantino’s more violent yearnings are accompanied by a devilish (and at time rather vile) sense of humor. The bickering between Ruth and Daisy provides some wonderful odd-couple-esque sparring, usually cut short by a punch to the mouth. Mexican Bob is probably the only character in the film that lacks for development, but he provides an equally critical comedic component on a par with the “fools” in Shakespearean productions, adding levity and helping frame the heavier dramatic content. Tarantino does lean on some other theatrical devices to add some farcical fun, a door that won’t shut properly and the ensemble offering loud advice on how to close it perhaps being the most memorable. It’s these playful additions that make you consider how much the film is an actor’s piece that would be equally at home on stage as it is on celluloid.

The 70mm Ultrawide format, historically used to showcase epic vistas, serves the film well in the spectacular opening shots. This aside, some people expecting something in the vein of Lawrence of Arabia may very well be disappointed. The expansive nature of the approach is seemingly restricted by setting the film largely in a single roomed cabin or stagecoach. But Tarantino uses the format and the space and perspectives it affords in different ways to show the shifting dynamics of the cast, character behavior, and drive home some moments of dark humor or violence.

It is curious that what feels like an American epic is largely set in one room. Even so, it remains a showcase for production talents such as Yohei Taneda’s exquisite, lived in set and costume designer Courtney Hoffman’s attention to detail. All are complemented by an understated score by Ennio Morricone. Even at its most brutal and ugly, with torrents of expletives and violence, The Hateful Eight is undeniably beautiful.

As to the cast. Oh Lord, that cast. A sentence or two afforded to each is insufficient to lavish praise with each actor carving their own niche, either alone or in one of the multitude of pairings Tarantino sets up. These are such fascinating character dynamics the film could be twice the length and still leave you wanting more. Special mention must be made for Russell, channeling John Wayne in fine fashion, but also for Jackson finally taking the center stage he has deserved for so long. Here he is a burning presence that lights the spark to kick off the beginning of the end for these Hateful Eight. In all, it is an actor’s dream, with juicy material to play with and against. Its length and dense verbiage means it’s a harder sell than some of Tarantino’s previous, more playful and fantastical outings (Django Unchained seems rather frivolous in comparison). At its core, the film is a character drama approached with a historical slant, and even with Tarantino’s inability to draw on pop culture for pithy conversation points it is still utterly engrossing.

The Hateful Eight is Tarantino at his most indulgent. If you’re a fan you will cherish every minute of it; if not, there is little more he can do to convince you of his talents. The film immerses you in a time long gone by as well as the distinct language of the filmmaker. One of his most beautiful films with his customary streak of wit and brutality running though it. An entirely unique take on a familiar genre. Savor every second of this intimate epic.

The Hateful Eight is set for a December 25th, 70mm Roadshow release in select theaters, with a wide digital release on January 1st, 2016.

Previous post Who’s Really to Blame for THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL?
Next post Sorrentino’s YOUTH is Pure Cinema at its Absolute Finest