A Review of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight:Sadistic, Nihilistic Character-Driven Drama

hateful8

Film: The Hateful Eight
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Primary Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir, James Parks, Channing Tatum, Zoë Bell
US Release Date: 25 December 2015

Sometime not too long after the Civil War, a bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) sits atop three corpses, which he intends to take to Red Rock, Wyoming. Unfortunately for Warren, he is without a horse, and a blizzard is quickly approaching. Just before the storm arrives, Warren encounters a stage coach, which is occupied by another bounty hunter, “The Hangman” John Ruth (Russell), and wanted fugitive Daisy Domergue (Leigh). Ruth is taking Domergue to Red Rock, where he plans to collect his bounty and watch her hang. Though he takes a good deal of convincing, Ruth eventually agrees to allow Warren to board the stage coach.

With the blizzard quickly approaching, Ruth’s driver, O.B. (Parks), heads for Minnie’s Haberdashery so they can wait out the storm. On the way, the stage coach encounters another man on the road, who is desperate for a ride so that he doesn’t freeze to death. The man’s name is Chris Mannix (Goggins), and he claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. Again, Ruth is wary of the man, but he still allows him onto the coach after hearing him plead his case.

O.B. and his stage coach full of passengers reach Minnie’s Haberdashery and are greeted by a man named Bob (Bichir), who informs them that he is in charge of the place while Minnie is away. Upon entering the Haberdashery, the passengers find that is it already occupied by three other guests: a cowboy named Joe Gage (Madsen), an Englishman named Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), and a Civil War General named Sandy Smithers (Dern).

Though imperfect, The Hateful Eight is a bold, layered, and smartly written film that clearly has the potential to improve with repeated viewing. And while certain aspects of the film may limit its mass appeal, it is sure to please those who are already fans of Tarantino’s style of filmmaking. Even as some are utterly repulsed (or bored) by it, many others will find the film incredibly entertaining and will be left wanting nothing more than to see it again.

It’s not much of a secret that I typically enjoy Tarantino’s work, and The Hateful Eight is no exception. It may not be my favorite Tarantino film—at least, not yet—but it’s still one of the more memorable, engrossing, and well-crafted movies that I have seen in recent months. In terms of Tarantino’s own filmography, The Hateful Eight has the most in common with Reservoir Dogs and Django Unchained, but it also takes anything it shares with those films to new and intriguing places. Moreover, while The Hateful Eight exists on a smaller scale and is—in its own way—much more intimate than some of Tarantino’s other works, it is still just as audacious as anything he’s directed.

With The Hateful Eight, Tarantino presents a story that intersects with both past and present-day America without ever fully committing to the realms of history and realism. That said, this combination western/drama/comedy/mystery is much more script-driven than it is story-driven, which is to say that it’s much more about its characters, their words, and the exchanges between them than it is about individual plot details or about uncovering any secrets. Yes, a mystery of sorts is solved in the film, but the solution doesn’t matter all that much; in fact, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to claim that certain “mysteries” in the film are really just MacGuffins—mere excuses for the characters to be where they are and to do what they do. The element of mystery in the film may help to keep viewers interested over its rather lengthy running time, but that doesn’t change the fact that conversations—not facts or events—are the real heart of The Hateful Eight, and no one writes conversations quite like Tarantino.

Fans of Tarantino’s filmography would probably agree that many of his movies demonstrate much more intelligence than may be immediately evident (this is not because they are asinine in any way, but because certain shocking events or flashy visuals can sometimes distract from some of what’s going on underneath the surface of his work). I don’t know when I’ll be able to see The Hateful Eight a second time, but I am eager to do so, not only because I enjoyed the film, but because I am confident that it will reveal much more of itself to me with repeated viewings. Now that I know who is who and how the story goes, I’ll be able to focus much more closely on The Hateful Eight’s characters as well as on the portrait of America that the film uses them to paint. If my current memories are correct, that portrait is damning and is brimming with ire and hopelessness, but there are certain details of it that I am sure to have missed the first time around.

While they do play second fiddle to Tarantino’s characters and their words, the visuals in the film are also quite strong. Cinematographer Robert Richardson (Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, Shutter Island) presents viewers with a considerable number of gorgeous (and rather ominous) landscape shots, which is rather impressive given just how much of the film takes place indoors. The sets and costumes are also well done here, and though The Hateful Eight is not as flashy as some of Tarantino’s other films, that does nothing to change the fact that it is brimming with his personality and style.

The Hateful Eight also boasts a memorable and distinctive score, which was composed by Ennio Morricone. The Italian composer has worked with Tarantino before and is no stranger to westerns, and his work here most certainly adds to the mood and the personality of the film.
Get Ennio Morricone’s score for The Hateful Eight.

The performances in the film are also solid, which is unsurprising given just how many of the actors have worked with Tarantino before. Taken together, the entire cast is strong, but Jackson and Goggins shine the brightest. That said, Russell and Roth are also quite commanding whenever they are on screen. It’s also important to note that one of the film’s greatest strengths is its cast of characters, many of whom are perfectly memorable and surprisingly complex.

Above all, The Hateful Eight is characterized by two of Tarantino’s favorite things: talking and bloodshed. The talking is fascinating and entertaining. It reveals, builds the characters, and keeps the whole thing moving even when the entire cast is confined within a single room. The bloodshed (as it should be here) is both remarkably enjoyable and quietly unsettling. True to form, Tarantino uses the violence in The Hateful Eight to build tension and heighten drama while also infusing a certain degree of humor into the film. That said—and while humor is undoubtedly present—the comedy in The Hateful Eight is blacker and more restrained than in some of the director’s most recent films.

As solid a film as The Hateful Eight is and as much as many will enjoy it, it is easy to see that it is not for everyone. This has never been much of a reason to fault a film, but it is worth mentioning all the same. If lots of talking or what could be called “gratuitous” violence are a problem for certain viewers, then they may want to pass on this one; anyone who is unable to enjoy either of these aspects of the film will probably regret having seen it (but they probably aren’t much fun anyway).

Talking and bleeding aside, the biggest potential problem with the film is its length. At 167 minutes, The Hateful Eight does feel just a tad overlong. Due to its setting and subject matter, the film doesn’t move all that quickly either, which may lead some to call it “slow.”

One more thing before we go. Over the course of the film, Domergue is abused—both physically and verbally—but she is hardly a damsel in distress, and I don’t buy the claim that the film is misogynist. This is partially because, in order for me to do so, I would have to first accept that The Hateful Eight regards Daisy Domergue as representative of all (or even most) women. The film repeatedly makes it clear that Domergue is a murderer and a schemer, and she’s just as nasty and as dangerous as any of the men who call her “bitch.” None of the violence directed at Domergue is sexual, and it’s hard to see how anyone can say it’s wholly unwarranted within the context of film either. More importantly, no one in The Hateful Eight is safe from violence, and there is no indication that Domergue suffers any of the violence that she does because she is a woman.

I lied. Here’s yet another thing: a quick note on the bleakness of the film. Once you’ve seen The Hateful Eight, and once you know the fate of each of its characters, consider the fact that it is the universe—in the form a blizzard—that brings them all to the Haberdashery in the first place. With this in mind, it’s clear that The Hateful Eight is far from optimistic, and it may even be Tarantino’s darkest film to date. I could say more about this, but I don’t want to spoil anything.

The Hateful Eight is a Tarantino film through and through. It’s also somber and stylish, brash and intelligent, nihilistic and bold. As sadistic as it might seem at times, Tarantino’s latest is also supremely entertaining, and—for the right viewers—it will prove to be a great source of cinematic fun.

Until Next Time
Sadly, I was not able to see the “glorious” 70mm version of The Hateful Eight. To my knowledge, nowhere in Tulsa is screening it (once again, this city lets me down). Had I been able to see that version of the film, I’m sure I would have been even more impressed with its visuals. That said, watching The Hateful Eight in a more ordinary format did nothing to disguise the fact that it is no ordinary film.

As always, thank you so much for reading! I hope to use a good chunk of January to catch up on movies I missed in 2015; unfortunately, the more movies I make time to watch, the less time I have to write about them. Such are the struggles of a lowly film-blogger.

Anyone who is interested can support Words on Films by donating here. I am also looking to publish guest posts from time to time, so feel free to contact me on twitter if you are interested in writing something for this blog.

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