One of the major negatives to come out of the film industry over the past few years are the people trying to imitate Quentin Tarantino. Whenever these people try to do their own take on the daring, edgy style of Tarantino, they come across as racist, sexist and homophobic. The only person who can do Tarantino and avoid it being those things is Tarantino mainly because, unlike his imitators, Tarantino comes across as pretty intelligent and it’s only when a new Tarantino film is released that you get that and that’s definitely the case with The Hateful Eight. In the hands of the imitators this would have been a disaster but in Tarantino’s hands it’s an insane, blistering thrill ride.
The plot of the film concerns bounty hunter John Ruth, known as the hangman as he always brings his captives in alive, transporting captive Daisy Domergue to Red Rock to hang. Along the way he meets fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren and the new sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix, who join him in his stagecoach. However, they get stopped at local waystation Minnie’s Haberdashery by a blizzard with four occupants already there, with Ruth believing that at least one of them is working to rescue Domergue and so begins a cycle of distrust between everyone there. Now something that is clear about the structure of the film is that it was designed to be seen in 70mm with the overture and intermission, it being clear at which point the intermission was supposed to take place. Aside from the structure not quite working in non-70mm showings, this is still a really engaging film. Whilst it’s being sold more along the lines of Django Unchained, it’s closest thematic cousin is Reservoir Dogs, with a group of people in a confined location with at least one of them not being who they say they are. This leads to some of the best dialogue Tarantino has written in recent years but, unfortunately, the excesses of Tarantino are on full display here. The reason Reservoir Dogs worked so well is because the film was fast paced and punchy but in the case of The Hateful Eight, the film is 3 hours long, meaning that the fast dialogue that is best for this type of environment doesn’t quite work. The main element that does work is the examination of racism in the film. Now a large part of this does spoil the film so I won’t explain it here, if you want to read more, check out Devin Faraci’s piece on it at Birth Movies Death, but I want to mention the character of Chris Mannix. In the film, it’s made clear that Mannix has committed numerous atrocities on black towns throughout the state following the end of the Civil War and he’s being made the Sheriff of Red Rock. This isn’t so much an indictment of the time but more an indictment of the police in modern times, particularly in the wake of Ferguson. Watching the film, it’s no wonder that Tarantino has become involved in the Black Lives Matter protests. The film also does a good job showing the damaging effect of violence and how acts of depravity create more acts of depravity, the cycle of violence generated and how only the most sadistic of people would want to keep it around, those being the eight of the title. Through this, and a lot of other scenes which I won’t spoil, it feels like Tarantino is indicting the audience who are laughing at the violence, showing that the audience is just as culpable in these crimes as the eight through the attitudes.
The performances meanwhile are excellent. Kurt Russell as John Ruth is shown to be a completely violent sadist, taking pleasure in hurting Daisy and especially taking pleasure in watching people hang. This is a difficult aspect of a character to pull off without turning into self-parody but Russell is a really sick, disturbing character, but you also see the respect that he commands amongst fellow bounty hunters because of his intimidating presence. Samuel L Jackson meanwhile is at the top of his game here. At first, he’s the only relatively sympathetic character but we later find out that he’s just as, if not more, of a monster than the others, finding out what he did (which warranted gruesome deaths in other Tarantino films) in an amazingly delivered monologue which is some of Jackson’s best acting. The presence that Jackson has meanwhile is equally important for why the character works and the race relations explored with the character work so well because of how well paired the acting and the writing is. Jennifer Jason Leigh meanwhile is clearly the most dangerous character in the film as Daisy Domergue. There’s this sharp intelligence to the character, she clearly knows what to say and how to say it to rile people up and there’s this perverse glee she has at being so despicable. Walton Goggins meanwhile is entertaining as Chris Mannix. It’s clear that Mannix is a horrible person who committed some horrific crimes against the black population after the Civil War and Goggins plays this as someone who thinks what he’s done was right, but it’s when he meets Bruce Dern’s Sanford Smithers, with Dern delivering a strong performance, playing particularly well off of Jackson, this is when he gets entertaining as this naive, starstruck side to the character comes out. Goggins doesn’t let you forget how horrible he is though and I completely disagree with any argument that says his character is redeemed. Even at the end he’s a sadist, going from disgustingly racist, to slightly less disgustingly racist.
Tim Roth is also entertaining, his over-the-top posh accent being one of the comic highlights in the film and it actually plays a key role in the plot. I also have to say that I never thought Channing Tatum could be intimidating but he does a great job being so in his brief appearance in the film whilst James Parks brings a great, beleaguered quality to stagecoach driver O.B. There are some performances in the eight that don’t work as well though. Michael Madsen, whilst having an intimidating presence, is fairly bland throughout the film whilst Demian Bichir doesn’t really work, nothing the character does is interesting and the only thing that works about the character is because of the relation to another character, which I won’t spoil here.
On a technical level, this is Tarantino’s most impressive film. The cinematography is excellent, the way the snowy landscape up to Minnie’s Haberdashery is shot being a particular highlight. The design of Minnie’s Haberdashery itself meanwhile is excellent, evoking the feeling of a stagecoach stop effectively. It feels comforting, the kind of place you normally wouldn’t mind being stuck in for a few days. These elements brilliantly contrast the violence in the film, this film having some of the best gore effects in Tarantino’s career, although nothing will ever top Kill Bill Volume 1 in terms of gore. The music meanwhile is excellent, although what else would you expect from the legendary Ennio Morricone. However, it is a shame that I didn’t get to see it in 70mm. Whilst it seems like a gag having a film shot in 70mm take place mostly indoors, the cinematography and set design is set up in such a way that important details are kept at the side of the frame and I feel like I lost out on a few important elements because I was only able to see it in digital, I do hope that I’m able to see a 70mm print in the future though and compare the differences between that version and the standard cut.
Overall, The Hateful Eight is a great film, but I wouldn’t call it one of Tarantino’s best. The dialogue, discussions of race, performances and cinematography are excellent, but the structure doesn’t really work in the standard format, adding to the fact that an hour could have been shaved off and nothing much would have been lost. The excesses of Tarantino are on full display here but when he’s on form, there is no-one better at this style of writing that Tarantino.
My Rating: 4/5