The Hateful Eight
When I think of a Tarantino film, I think of interesting dialogue and characters, great visuals, and lots of gratuitous violence. Given that criteria, this 188 minute, 70mm film with a 12 minute intermission may be the one that most fits that description. The dialogue is outstanding, the actors’ performances give the characters lots of flavour, and the expected Tarantinian violence is nicely over-the top.
The real star here is the absolutely gorgeous cinematography. The plot is unfortunately a bit weak but does enough to service the character interactions. Non-fans of Tarantino probably won’t find anything here to change their opinion, while both fans of his and of westerns should be more than satisfied.
Two groups of post-civil war travellers end up in a ramshackle haberdashery to wait out a blizzard. The first group arrive by carriage, forced to stop on their way to a local town due to the storm. Originally this group included the beleaguered driver (James Parks), a white bounty hunter (Kurt Russell), and a female prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Along the way they pick up a black bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and the son of a confederate commander claiming to be the new sheriff of the town (Walter Goggins). The second group, already at the location includes a confederate general (Bruce Dern), a hangman (Tim Roth), a mysterious stranger (Michael Madsen), and a Mexican claiming to be running the place while the owners are away (Demián Bichir).
Not everyone is whom they claim to be and Russell correctly suspects that at least one member of the second group is trying to free his prisoner. Let chaos ensue!
The plot is the weakest aspect of the movie. As an example, the 5th chapter outlines the plan by which the prisoner will be freed, mainly waiting for Russell to let his guard down so he can be shot. However, since he and his prisoner are the first to enter the haberdashery, there’s no reason he couldn’t have just been shot right then. Plan be damned! You would have had the element of surprise, especially since at one point after entering he has to turn his back to the room to close the door. An additional plot detail – which I won’t reveal – further makes waiting nonsensical.
Then there’s the ending.
Two greatly injured people overpower and hang a less injured third, as was desired by one of the already deceased, and then await their own deaths. Why would the third, who was portrayed as strong-willed, allow this to happen? Death for all three was inevitable by that point, but why not resist and die by any other means? This would deny the other two the final satisfaction the hanging would bring before their own deaths and would have made for a darker, even less happy ending to the story.
Still, as much as I’m criticizing it, the plot doesn’t matter here. It’s just an excuse to let the characters and dialogue shine. For me, though, it lowers the entertainment value.
Tarantino is quite simply one of the best writers of dialogue in cinema today. The banter between the characters is simply outstanding, to the point where I’m honestly having trouble finding adequate descriptors in the English language. At one point, Jackson gives a graphic monologue that may well be my favourite piece in any Tarantino film, and certainly one of the best in any 2015 film, regardless of genre.
If I’m to offer any critique of the writing, it’s that the post-intermission narration went on a bit too long and contained some summary information that probably could have been cut.
Mostly a nice combination of orchestral cues common in other Tarantino films, but with a touch of old-style Western film. As with all good cinema music, it’s never overpowering and lends atmosphere to the scenes. In many scenes, it is absent all together to let the dialogue shine. However, a couple of more modern pop songs early on did feel out of place.
A great ensemble cast. Aside from Michael Madsen playing the same character he’s always played, all the actors give outstandingly entertaining performances. Even Madsen’s typical characterization fits the film so it works for what it is.
While I’ve already mentioned Jackson’s monologue, the most impressive performance was from Goggins, whose sheriff character has the most development over the film. Goggin’s interactions with Jackson are particularly entertaining, moving from distrust to…well, not necessarily respect, but at least a mutual understanding. Leigh also holds her own in a very entertaining performance as the prisoner, showing that she’s devious enough to put up with her captor’s abuses while biding time for her escape.
Cinematography and Visual Aesthetics
I’ll be honest here: the look of the film took a few minutes to click with me. Starting with the opening overture, and then into the first chapter, there was something different about the look of the film. Sure, the shots were still very cinematic, but something about the staging and camera placement felt different. Then it suddenly dawned on me: this is a stage production moved to the big screen.
I’m an amateur stage actor, and the staging just felt like it was made for a live performance in front of an audience. It never feels like it’s a camera moving to show different actors, but rather the audience itself is moving around the stage with these characters. To those not akin to live theatre, it’s very difficult to explain in words, but the result is absolutely gorgeous and makes this one of the best looking films of the year.
Were I to nitpick slightly, it would be that the long shots were inconsistent with showing snowfall, but honestly that just added to the stage show feel.
The practical effects were also nicely gory and over the top, but that is standard in a Tarantino film so it’s barely worth mentioning. Even though you expect it to be there it doesn’t disappoint.
Surprisingly I’ve not seen all of the Tarantino films, as I only recently picked up an appreciation. I simply love Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds, quite liked Django: Unchained, and, while I enjoy it, I think Pulp Fiction is a bit overrated. The other films I’ve not seen; not even, Resevoir Dogs. Yes, I’ll have to fix that eventually.
Anyway, given the Tarantino films I have seen, I’d rank this as about equal with Django: Unchained. I think that is a pretty high bar to have reached given that all of his films are hallmarks of cinema. It easily provided enough entertainment in its visuals, characters, and dialog to overcome the shortcomings with the plot.
If you do have the option, I’d recommend the 70mm full movie version. As enjoyable as it is, the intermission came as a welcome break and only adds to the stage production feel of the film.