Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern
Runtime: 168 Minutes
Despite the initial hesitance on the production behind his 8th feature, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight has carried with it to the screen some of the highest expectations of his entire career. The majesty in his technical prowess as one of Hollywood’s most effortlessly stylish filmmakers is a chief drawing card for this production, shot and presented in 70mm format by collaborating DP Robert Richardson, he is a champion for the methods of old serving up fresh and inventive narratives and characters through a nostalgic gaze. The greatest trickery of The Hateful Eight though might come down to the sense that much of this strenuous visual exercise is all in-service of the elaborate ruse that is the film itself.
Though the glory of its Ultra Panavision 70mm presentation has been played up by the studio, and the film’s opening sequences beautifully exhibit the snowy Colorado landscape, a majority of the film’s drama unfolds within the four wheezing walls of Minnie’s Haberdashery; a low-key, muted yet living stage for this Agatha Christie style mystery to unfold over the following hours. In terms of scale, this is probably his most intimately fashioned film since Reservoir Dogs. A film far more enriched with the dialogues of its characters than the niceties of its exterior world, practically a glorified chamber piece in construction, its closer akin to theatre than cinema – something that Richardson’s still, wide and stoic photography happens to agree with. But the value of its cinematic qualities allows the production to leap beyond those boundaries in ways that only the medium can, allowing the audiences eye to wonder in a frame that encapsulates every detail with painstaking awareness, allowing the world and characters breath around the edges of your initial vision.
Deeper still is the fact that the story is infused with the very concept that inspires it; the value of narrative weaving and storytelling as a means of distraction. Much like Inglorious Basterds’ underlying theme of film-as-weapon, the tales that are spun by numerous figures of this story are in many ways fabrications intended to distract the listener while the plot and action sneak up on you unawares. As well as this, like the vestiges of traditional spoken stories before the creation of cinema, all of these characters are in some way or another aware of each other through presence or word-of-mouth alone, celebrating the minimalism of visual dramatization in favour of allowing a film populated with potential side characters to run riot in their hopeless desolation. Continuing to fight the divide of the Civil War conflict long since over, but still fresh in the wounds of its many ageing fighters.
The moral compass of the film really relies on the power of the performers, as all eight of these hateful characters stretch their own moral fibres over the runtime in ways unimaginable. From its 50s celebrations of optimism and brooding masculinity to the bitter and disenchanted westerns of the 70s, the genre has devolved to the point of our utter fascination in the villain – from Jessie James to Wyatt Earp, this feels like the ultimate culmination of this daunting fixation. They’re as genuinely nasty and decrepit a bunch as the title would suggest, and the film loves to toy with the audience’s allegiances and sentiments for as long as possible before giving you access to their black and shallow hearts.
Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren might be an immediate draw for sympathies given his position at the start and colourful demeanour, but slowly and surely even those with the toughest of dispositions may wretch in disgust at the many atrocities under his belt – the same applies for the marvellously wicked Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue, where ordinarily our empathies would fly to a women being struck by a man, just bare in mind the reason why Russell’s John Ruth a.k.a “The Hangman” is taking her in to begin with. The performances from all faces, both old and new to Tarantino’s work, are all memorably pitched and executed. From the likes of Russell’s John Wayne-esque gesticulation to Roth and Madsen’s trope indulging discourse. As well as show stealer Walton Goggins as “The Sheriff” in the films closest sibilance to a character arc.
Other than our collection of captivating baddies, the other star of the film might come in the form of Ennio Morricone’s triumphant return to the genre that he helped to establish. Tarantino’s first film to feature a fully orchestrated original score, Morricone’s flourishes of brilliance embed every scene with the classic quality of its finest inspirations, a memorable, brash and feisty score up there with some of his best recent work.
If there is a danger to the film overall then it comes down, once again, to the overactive tendencies of the auteur at the helm. Lengthy and riddled with languor and patience, much like its characters, the film still manages to breeze through its first two acts until the point of Chapter 5, in which the film takes an unexpected detour into the past in a jarring and unnecessarily dwelt upon sequence that halts the film in an effort to tie up loose ends. It’s a major stumbling block to hit before giving way to a remarkably bloody finale that tends to Tarantino’s more lustful indulgences, but even then the film is somehow robbed of that wound up release because of the narrative juncture that demands to be resolved.
Still, for a majority of its runtime is hard not to appreciate The Hateful Eight for the splendidly entertaining picture that it is. It’s the work of a director who knows what he wants and just how to get it, serving up luscious dialogues and wealthy characterisation in abundance with an eye for picturesque schlock like no other filmmaker working today. It’s an uneven, bulky, at times indulgent and cruel journey that not all will be willing to take, but for those able to stick it out it’s as enjoyable a cinematic event as any he’s produced.