If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, it’s pretty clear that I’m totally in the tank for Quentin Tarantino. He’s one of my favorite directors and Pulp Fiction is easily one of my favorite movies of all time. I look forward to the release of a Tarantino film like most people look forward to Christmas, which has worked out for me recently since his last two movies have been released on Christmas. People think I’m happy and giddy about the holiday, when really I’m looking forward to some violence and stylized dialogue. You have your thing, I have mine. I was tremendously disappointed that The Hateful Eight roadshow wasn’t coming to a city by me on Christmas day, so I wasn’t able to see the movie on opening night, breaking my streak that started with Kill Bill Vol. 1. For some reason my family didn’t love the idea of me blowing off Christmas to go to the city to see The Hateful Eight; we all have our crosses to bear. I had to wait a whole week to see the movie. The horror!
Compared to a lot of Tarantino movies, the scale of The Hateful Eight is relatively small. This is another genre pick, this time in the style of a Western. Most of the action in the film takes place in a one room lodge where a snowstorm has stranded eight colorful characters: bounty hunter O. B. (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh); former Civil War Major turned bounty hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson); a sheriff (Walton Goggins); a hangman (Tim Roth); a cowboy (Michael Madsen); a former Confederate general (Bruce Dern) and “the Mexican” (Demián Bichir). Forced to interact with one another given the limited confines, tensions begins to bubble up to the surface. There is a sizable bounty on Daisy’s head and O.B. wants to make sure that he is the only one that collects it, by any means necessary. Though the Civil War has ended, a lot of the tension and animosity from the conflict is still very much alive. Preexisting relationships come to the surface. Violence ensues in a spectacular fashion. People die.
The Hateful Eight is perhaps the most violent and challenging of all of Tarantino’s films, which if you are a fan you know is saying a lot. Though everyone gets part of the abuse, the lion share of the violence is directed at Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character, which brings its own set of issues. The pacing is very slow and deliberate; The Hateful Eight clocks in at close to three hours and Tarantino has no interest in rushing his story. There is liberal use of the N-word throughout the film, predominantly used by the white characters. While there are definitely elements of revenge in The Hateful Eight, the heroes are not as clear cut as they were in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. In fact, there really aren’t any obvious heroes in this movie – when Tarantino titled this movie The Hateful Eight, he wasn’t joking. There are some pretty terrible people populating this movie. All of these elements make the movie something of a challenge. Immediately after finishing the movie, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it; I liked it, but didn’t immediately fall in love with it. But as the days passed, I found that I couldn’t stop thinking about The Hateful Eight and my admiration for what Tarantino had pulled off continued to grow. Now I’m just trying to carve out another three-hour block of time to watch the movie again. That being said, this movie is absolutely not for everyone; if you’ve struggled with Tarantino movies in the past because of the violence and use of language, The Hateful Eight is most definitely not a film that you’ll enjoy or appreciate. There are scenes in Django Unchained that are difficult to watch; there are more of those scenes in The Hateful Eight. Some have accused the film of misogyny, given the brutality directed at Daisy, and though I don’t necessarily agree with that interpretation, it is very uncomfortable to see her battered the way that she is (though that’s kind of the point). This is a divisive film and while it absolutely worked for me, your personal preferences will dictate a lot of how you feel about The Hateful Eight. So proceed with some caution (and for the love of God, leave the kids at home if you see this. The R rating is legit.)
Given the time period and setting, Tarantino’s trademark banter about pop culture is completely absent; there are no monologues about tipping or burgers and there is also no surface commentary about slavery or Nazis. The Hateful Eight definitely has some things to say, particularly about racism, law enforcement and justice, but it presented differently than in other Tarantino films. Some might suspect that parts of The Hateful Eight were written in reaction to recent events involving police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement, but thanks to the script being leaked prior to production we know that Tarantino was dealing with these issue well before any of these issues came to the forefront of the American conscious. The timing is fortuitous and I think gives even more meaning to some of the idea that Tarantino is wrestling with. The Hateful Eight isn’t limited to being a political statement; the film is also an interesting character study as he slowly turns these characters, who could easily have been just caricatures, into fully realized and complex individuals. When you first meet Goggins’ Chris Mannix, you think you have him all figured out. But Tarantino is not one who is satisfied with black and white, preferring to wallow in shades of grey, so the more you learn about Mannix, the less you can pin down how exactly you are supposed to feel about him. This applies to all the characters, who are a study in contrasts. Depending on the other character that they interact with, new facets of their personality emerge and the viewer is constantly reevaluating their perceptions. Tarantino’s occasionally frenetic style is completely neutered in The Hateful Eight. He takes his time, slowly revealing information and peeling back the layers of these characters. At its heart, this film is a mystery that shares some common DNA with works from Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie – with a lot more blood and cussing. As people start dying, you are continually asked to adjust your perceptions of what this movie is. Where The Hateful Eight ends up is at a very different location than I would have expected when the film began. I really enjoyed that unpredictability and I look forward to watching the film again, knowing now what I didn’t know then. I think it will put a whole different spin on the experience.
Some other thoughts:
- While a certain famous movie star does in fact have a role in The Hateful Eight, I think it’s better if you know as little as possible about his involvement. His role is minor in screen time, but pivotal. I kind of wish that they had used a less famous person, as when he finally shows up, it kind of takes you out of the movie experience briefly.
- Jennifer Lawrence was reportedly approached to play the role of Daisy, and though I think Lawrence makes everything better I’m kind of glad that she ultimately didn’t take the role. Jennifer Jason Leigh does an amazing job and I think that the character works better played by a slightly older woman. Plus there is no way Lawrence’s agents would have let her take this role, given the level of brutality and venom involved.
- Also largely missing from The Hateful Eight is the use of obscure or reimagined pop songs. For the most part, the soundtrack is that of a traditional Western.
- Tim Roth does a fine job and it’s good to see him resurface in the Tarantino universe, but it’s hard not to imagine that his role was written for Christoph Waltz (who would have KILLED IT).
- Speaking of killing it – there is no situation in life that Walton Goggins does not make better. He is spectacular in everything and The Hateful Eight is no different.
- Samuel L. Jackson is also brilliant. Hell, the whole cast knocks this one right out of the park.
- Though there is a lot of awful stuff going on in this movie, it is also occasionally very funny.
The Hateful Eight is not Tarantino’s most accessible film, but it may be one of his best. The cinematography is gorgeous and this is a film that idles in the back of your brain long after the final credits have rolled. He has assembled an amazing cast that manages to bring these hateful characters to life in such a way that there is nuance and layers to their performances. This is a classic Tarantino film, minus some of the trappings and trademarks of his previous movies. While the violence and language will presumably turn some people off, The Hateful Eight may in fact be Tarantino’s most mature movie to date. The pacing is slow, but if you are willing to sit back and let Tarantino and his merry band of sociopaths take you on their journey, you ultimately won’t be disappointed.