The Hateful Eight is the eighth movie from Quentin Tarantino, a fact that is proudly declared in the opening titles.
I guess that is because QT is one of the few directors whose reputation can still carry a movie. The name Tarantino is tied with a certain cinematic promise, it’s an event, it’s cool characters supported by even cooler dialogue backed by an ice cold soundtrack. It’s bloody. It’s real and menacing, yet darkly funny and witty. It’s designed to get you off in the finest ways cinema can. Since Pulp Fiction, he has been given free reign on his projects with little or no involvement from the studio or any other executive forces. It is very much his vision coming through on the screen, which increasingly in this age of digital cinema and young one movie directors haplessly being snapped up to pick up the reigns of mega franchises spitballed between board room suits.
Since Kill Bill, there has been an aspect that Tarantino has retreated into the recesses of his own brain and 70s influences. He just hasn’t made a film as good as Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs. Django Unchained did come close though.
Set in rural antebellum Wyoming in the midst of winter, a bounty hunter by the name of John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) is stage coach bound towards Red Rock where he is to hang notorious criminal and murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who he has in his custody.
On the way, he encounters fellow bounty hunter and war veteran Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and soon to be sheriff of Red Rock Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). Two characters who are instantly at odds with one another falling on opposite sides of the emancipation act.
With a severe blizzard hot on their heels, the group are forced to take shelter at an outpost known as Milller’s Haberdashery. Already gathered inside, is an old war general (Bruce Dern), an exceedingly well spoken English hangman known as Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Mexican bob (Demian Bichir) and a quiet introvert who only plans to visit his mother for Christmas (Michael Madsen…).
Last but not least, you have the stage coach driver OB (James Parks) making eight individuals gathered within Miller’s Haberdashery. Things aren’t right of course and as the blizzard draws into the night, paranoia is afoot. With warring political beliefs, copious personal ‘beef’ and the fact that no one gathered within the cabin is 100% who they say they are, the atmosphere within the cabin is as stormy as the freak winter forces happening outside. The only question is: will anyone make it out of Miller’s Haberdashery alive?
The Hateful Eight is quite often exquisite to look at and listen to. From its opening moments, panning slowly from a wooden statue of Christ on a cross half buried in the snow, as a stage coach lumbers closer in the distance to the sound of Ennio Moricone’s brooding almost Hitchcockian score. There is something classical about it – a tone is being set, an air of extreme unease pervades the entire cinema, the hairs begin standing on the back of your neck in anticipation for whatever dark business the film has in store. Anything can happen at any moment. It feels great.
There are a lot of music gems throughout the Hateful Eight as you would expect from a Tarantino picture. Bizarrely he reuses music from Exorcist II in creating an atmosphere of dread. He also appropriates parts of Ennio Morricone’s unused music from John Carpenter’s The Thing. Once you hear it and realise you are watching Kurt Russell being paranoid of other men within snowy surroundings, it suddenly dawns on you that the Hateful Eight is yet another remake of the The Thing!
There is a lot to be said about the method in which the Hateful Eight is composed. It rejects any digital elements and uses analogue methods, with an expanded aspect ratio that allows for extreme wide angled shots. This was commonly used for exterior shots in the 60s and 70s, but Tarantino’s idea is to use it within the spacious yet confined environment of a single room. This means there is very little for the people to hide within the frame, which should add to the tension. Conceptually, it’s an engaging idea. Indeed, there is always something happening in the background as things happen in the foreground.
It’s just a shame that the Hateful Eight never really lives up to the promise of that opening scene or indeed the potential for claustrophobic intensity invested in Tarantino’s cinematic method. Instead, Tarantino goes for the bloody option. Bullets fly. Heads explode. Blood goes everywhere. Zingers are zinged.
I’m sure some cinematic essayists will be quick to write about how The Hateful Eight is essentially portraying a microcosm of American society and a brief and violent history that still resonate within today’s political climate. At one point, to diffuse ill feeling, one of the characters champions the idea of drawing a line through the middle of the room in attempt to separate the confederate and yankee sympathisers. There is an element today of a sense of paranoia over what your neighbours are doing and whether they are who they say they are. In many ways, we are all in that room, suspecting one another and plotting against one another. I guess..
Tarantino himself has been publically speaking out against the police brutality in particular cases across the US. The film doesn’t offer much in the way of pleasantries for those in law. We see Kurt Russell’s character repeatedly hit his prisoner hard and yet he is supposed to be the closest thing the film has to a moral centre. Though this is probably Tarantino creating a basic dichotomy in the character, like he did with Mr White in Reservoir Dogs, a noble thief but an unrelenting cop killer at the same time.
The cast all say their lines splendidly. Tarantino implicity knows who he is writing for. Samuel L. Jackson gets another badass ‘Ezekiel 25:17’ speech before icing a fool. Michael Madsen does his silently burning psychopath routine once again and Tim Roth does his best to appear civil and genteel, but you just know there is something sinister behind his wicked smile. Kurt Russell, is essentially playing Kurt Russell again, a somewhat noble mountain man with a worldly wisdom about him. Walton Goggins is perhaps the standout, a hateful racist and borderline simpleton for the first half, but soon coming into his own and becoming one of the funniest characters not to mention the one with the most coherent arc. As the main woman of the film, Jennifer Jason Leigh is despicable as Daisy Domergue but is largely unsympathetic, enhancing the character with a childish glee and a mischievous menace.
The Hateful Eight is then, something of a disappointment. The promise was there, a Western remake of Reservoir dogs. One room, a group of mean spirits and the promise of violence most horrible. The problem is, the emotion is never allowed to flow, you never root for a character nor feel largely sympathetic to anyone’s side. It’s not as if the film is tight on screen time to contain such developments, it’s still almost 3 hours long! I kept expecting a flashback sequence to make me sympathise with Daisy. But it never comes and she remains an absolutely horrible human being.
Each of the characters is just so hateful and you never feel too bad when they pop their clogs. The anticipation comes only from the question of when they are going to die and how it happens, usually in a foray of gory fireworks. Perhaps this was all we could expect.
Unfortunately, The Hateful Eight is not as good as the big three – Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown. It’s not even as tense as the scotch scene from Inglourious Basterds. It’s not nearly as enjoyable as Django Unchained with its hip hop Western fairy tale underpinnings. It is however, much better than Death Proof, but then so are most things. There is always the potential for the Hateful Eight to be riveting but it never really happens. It is still well made and impeccably stylish, but in the end the interior and temporary inhabitants of Miller’s Haberdashery just feel empty.
John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)By the end of the Hateful Eight, I just wanted to go back and watch the original icy Kurt Russell paranoia story. Of course when I say original, I actually mean remake.
The Thing From Another World (1951)
The Scotch scene from Inglorious Basterds (2008)