Written/Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Michael Madsen
I believe I was in the minority when I was disappointed to see that Tarantino’s next film after Django Unchained would be another western. I loved Django Unchained but I really wanted to see the prolific writer/director invade a different genre. What about a sci-fi film? After seeing the limited Roadshow version of the film, uncut and presented on a real 70mm film print, I have to eat my words.
The Film (Literally film)
Tarantino has dabbled with the grindhouse genre off and on, even making two films with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez that were released together under the group title “Grindhouse”. While those films were a real blast this film actually truly embraces the grindhouse genre more than they do. So yeah, if you were looking for a sort of traditional western well you are barking up the wrong tree. If you are even just a fair-weather fan of the director you should know better than expect anything typical from him.
The thing that his other grindhousey (yes I know it’s not a word or words but you get my meaning) films never quite got a handle on is social commentary. A true grindhouse film is a product of the era in which it’s made. Low budget filmmakers imbue their stories with current sociopolitical angst while knowing to get attention the film needed to be edgy, either sexy or violent or even better a combination platter. Tarantino definitely goes for violent here, so violent at times that some viewers may be turned off to the movie. Blood and guts is one thing but violence towards women is a real challenge to watch.
The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s essay on sexism and racism in our country. He cleverly speaks about modern times in a post-Civil War era and he effortlessly connects the two eras. The eight people he speaks of in the title are hateful in the obvious way; they are scoundrels, killers, and thieves. What’s more interesting and edgy is that they aren’t just hateful they are hate-filled. They hate on nearly every level from racism to sexism and one could even argue classism. I want a copy of this film to shake in the faces of people that preach the wonders of Crash, a horrible preachy and on the nose film that wants to be a deep observation of racism but ends up being a bad Lifetime movie. This film speaks to the challenges of racism, the horrors of war, and the senseless need humans have for revenge. All of this social commentary is bathed in thoughtful, clever and sometimes uncomfortably humorous dialogue, and buckets of blood. Like I said, a near perfect grindhouse film made 30 years after the genre died.
It’s odd to say this about a film that’s three hours long but The Hateful Eight is one of Tarantino’s tightest stories. The movie is long but it’s precisely long. The slow burn first builds drama and tension and then suspense all the way to a powerful climax. Along the way, as tensions build, we learn Tarantino’s feelings about our social world, and we learn just how hateful these people can be, especially as they find common ground, or unexpected connections to one another.
The basic story is that eight strangers find themselves hold up in a tiny rest stop waiting out a blizzard. There are two bounty hunters; one is delivering his bounty in the form of three dead men while the other is bringing his bounty in alive to be hanged. There’s a man entrusted with the way station, a mysterious cowboy, a retired Northern soldier, an ex Southern militia man turning sheriff, and others. The story unfolds through conversation. As they begin to learn truths about each other the tension builds. To say too much more would just ruin the movie. This film doesn’t have Shyamalan style, or even Tarantino style twists. The film simply builds upon itself until it explodes.
Every actor does some of their best work ever in this film but it’s Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh that own the movie. Leigh bucks the system in her role by playing not only a villain but also an intimidating and scary psychopath. It doesn’t matter that she’s a woman; she is scary to men and women equally. It’s hard to watch her take the constant beating she takes in the opening scenes of the film until she reveals just what a viper she truly is. It becomes clear very early on that she is easily the most dangerous individual in the room. Jackson’s character is the closest thing to a hero that this movie has. Jackson brings hurt and complexity to a character that isn’t a hero, but he is freakishly relatable in spite of the horrible things he has done. Michael Madsen seems to be channeling his best Nick Nolte in this film, just saying. There’s not a bad performance in the film so to say that Jackson and Leigh on the film speaks volumes about what they do in the film.
Tarantino shot this film on ultra 70mm film giving him an enormous canvas to play with. At first blush it seems like Tarantino is playing a huge joke on us by shooting in this rare huge film format and then setting 90% of the film inside a single room. The format allows for some subtly amazing shots though. There are a couple of shots of characters standing in the doorway and you can literally see the entire set from wall to wall. The resulting effect is that the film almost feels like a stage play at times. While the exterior shots are few and far between they are stunning. Perhaps the most beautiful shot of the entire movie is the opening shot of a very slow camera movement back from a snow covered cross as a the horse and buggy slowly rolls into view in the distance. The level of detail in many of the shots shows just how powerful film can still be compared to current digital technology too.
Quentin Tarantino is a master at reusing and re-purposing music that we may or may not have heard before. My favorite example of him reusing music happened in Kill Bill Vol. 1. Daryl Hannah’s character whistles a little tune as she enters a hospital. The tune became synonymous with that scene and that film. The tune originally appeared in an early 70’s Italian thriller called Twitch of the Death Nerve. While the music in The Hateful Eight comes from a variety of places the best music in the film are bits of Ennio Morricone music originally created for John Carpenter’s sci-fi classic The Thing. Tarantino often homages classic films within his films and The Hateful Eight is definitely a riff on The Thing all the way down to the Morricone music and the truly cold and claustrophobic atmosphere of both films. The music is used to represent the passage of time and to build emotional response but there are a few strong instances where it is utilized as a sound effect too. This film will end up being one of the coolest sounding Tarantino films to date.
Most of you will see The Hateful Eight in a shorter version that will be digitally projected and I don’t believe it will be nearly as strong of a film. I hope I have to eat those words too. Looking at this Roadshow version I believe the first half is much stronger than the second half, but the second half is still wonderful. I’m usually ready to trim up a Tarantino film because they are just too bloated. This film is bloated with dialogue and character speeches but the tension is slowly building in what is essentially a character study. The Hateful Eight is a film that can’t be rushed. The slow pace allows us to grasp the surface tension between characters as well as soak in the social commentary lurking underneath. Sadly a cut version of the film will loose some of the layers and the slow burn may be stunted too. As it stands The Hateful Eight is one of my favorite Tarantino films and I honestly couldn’t say that until a few hours after recovering from the awe inspiring theatrical experience. My only real complaint about the film is a storytelling tool that Tarantino has used before, a few times before that I’m tired of seeing from him. He did it perfectly in Pulp Fiction now leave it there. That’s all I’m going to say because I really don’t want to get into spoiler territory. Overall The Hateful Eight is completely nihilistic, thoughtful, funny, and one of the director’s most layered films.