Review – The Hateful Eight

‘Event cinema’ is a term that has largely been reduced over the years to that of the tent pole picture, so it’s nothing if not refreshing to see a filmmaker so brazenly and assuredly resurrecting celluloid’s largest format when presenting his latest work.

The Hateful Eight is often provocative and brilliant, but Tarantino has let himself become his own worst enemy

The Hateful Eight is often provocative and brilliant, but Tarantino has let himself become his own worst enemy

Everything about writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight draws attention to itself, from the use of Ultra Panavision 70mm – a film connoisseur’s wet dream and a format so rare (barring Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master) as to be virtually unheard of since Hollywood’s golden age – to the employment of an overture and intermission; giving the movie a brazen air of regality.

The promise of extra footage to entice people to seek out the film’s 70mm ‘Roadshow’ isn’t the first time QT has presented two different versions of the same movie; he did something similar with his grindhouse homage Death Proof back in 2007.

Violence is just around the corner in The Hateful Eight

Violence is just around the corner in The Hateful Eight

It’s fair to say The Hateful Eight is on a different scale; however, with great pomp and circumstance comes the risk of great pitfalls and while the director largely succeeds in his endeavour, it isn’t without the flaws that have come to be synonymous with Tarantino flicks.

Tarantino’s gift for movie dialogue is legendary and virtually unparalleled in modern cinema, but what the director hasn’t received enough credit for over the years is his inherent understanding of how to stage a scene and where to place the camera.

"The Little Man" (Tim Roth) questions "The Hangman" (Kurt Russell) and "The Prisoner" (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in The Hateful Eight

“The Little Man” (Tim Roth) questions “The Hangman” (Kurt Russell) and “The Prisoner” (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in The Hateful Eight

Filming in 70mm is a gamble as it can amplify bad technical decisions; but in the case of The Hateful Eight the use of Ultra Panavision serves to add an extra layer of complexity and subtext to what are already masterfully staged confrontations between his core characters.

The film has attracted comparisons to QT’s 1992 debut Reservoir Dogs (not least of which from the director himself) for sticking to a single location for much of the running time. However, it’s a full 30 minutes before we arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery as the film patiently sets out its stall with an increasingly uneasy stagecoach journey involving bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell), who is transporting wanted criminal Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock to be hanged, fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be Red Rock’s new sheriff.

Gun-toting "Bounty Hunter" (Samuel L. Jackson) and "The Sheriff" (Walton Goggins) in The Hateful Eight

Gun-toting “Bounty Hunter” (Samuel L. Jackson) and “The Sheriff” (Walton Goggins) in The Hateful Eight

As wordy a chapter (or two) as this is, it establishes the mood of mistrust, paranoia and violence (filmed using a string a tight shots that juxtapose the vast and unforgiving wintry Wyoming landscape) that permeates much of the film. The suspicion that all is not as it seems is encapsulated in a single shot of Domergue, nursing a bust lip caused by a punch, who we see staring mischievously at Warren as if to shrug off the act of violence before turning away and letting her guard slip for a moment as the pain takes hold; only to laugh it off again as she realises she’s once again being looked upon.

The sense of foreboding and Old Testament justice (signaled by the evocative shot of a snow-covered crucifix) is ratcheted up in typical QT fashion as the action moves into Minnie’s Haberdashery and an increasingly bloodthirsty standoff slowly plays out among the odious octet – who also include Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth channeling Terry Thomas), Mexican Bob (Demián Bichir), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and Confederate General Sandford Smithers (Bruce Dern) – as a blizzard imprisons them to their fate.

There are moments here of the sort of brilliance that only the former video store clerk could conjure up. The disjointed narrative, so often a staple of Tarantino’s work, is employed to sterling effect and the performances, as ever, are uniformly excellent. Madsen and Roth haven’t been given this much to do for a good long while and Russell once again proves that the more unpredictable he is the better.

Are you gonna bark all day little doggie?: "The Cow Puncher" (Michael Madsen) in The Hateful Eight

Are you gonna bark all day little doggie?: “The Cow Puncher” (Michael Madsen) in The Hateful Eight

Goggins is on breakout form following a highly respected career in TV, while Leigh is arguably the best thing about the film, giving a shrewd and disarming performance that gets under your skin. However, it’s Jackson who once again lifts his game for a Tarantino picture and has a blast delivering the director’s typically colourful dialogue; in particular a comically nasty monologue an hour or so in that finally cranks the film into top gear.

The vice-like score by legendary composer Ennio Morricone fits the jittery mood of the film. Indeed, it’s rather fitting the majority of the score was originally written for The Thing (1982) as The Hateful Eight‘s creeping sense of paranoia between a small group of characters trapped by worsening weather is more than reminiscent of John Carpenter’s classic (minus the Thing of course). The score also fits the film’s whodunnit narrative that tips a wink to Hitchcock.

Too much of anything can be a bad thing, however, and the luxuriant running time cries out for a further edit. The opening hour, as satisfying as it is, spins its wheels and sees the director at his most indulgent. Tarantino is like a screenwriter’s equivalent of Dickens; a beautiful writer who can’t help penning a paragraph when a line will do.

Blood on the snow: "The Hangman" (Kurt Russell) and "The Bounty Hunter" (Samuel L. Jackson) in The Hateful Eight

Blood on the snow: “The Hangman” (Kurt Russell) and “The Bounty Hunter” (Samuel L. Jackson) in The Hateful Eight

The abundant use of the N-word has inevitably drawn heavy criticism and it’s certainly difficult to defend a movie that employs such a charged word so often. Jackson has defended Tarantino, pointing out his dialogue fits the characters and the time in which the film was made, while QT himself has spoken of how dealing with race in America is something he has to offer the western. Whether you buy that is up to you.

As Tarantino nears the self-imposed end of his career (10 films and he’s out), a question remains as to whether his best work is behind him. The Hateful Eight is often provocative and brilliant, but Tarantino has let himself become his own worst enemy.

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22 comments

  1. Tom · February 15, 2016

    I vote for an official re-name of this film: Odious Octet. Brilliant, sir. BRILLIANT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    But seriously, excellent read. I think it’s def QT’s most flawed yet but it wasn’t enough to stop me from really enjoying it. It’s almost a guilty pleasure by now, isn’t it?

    • Three Rows Back · February 15, 2016

      Ha ha, I do love my alliteration! Thank you mate. I’ll always watch a new QT release and this one really had plenty to recommend it. He just needs to get over himself!

  2. Rebecca · February 15, 2016

    It’s almost like Tarantino is self-parodying himself with going overboard on his own unique style, in my opinion. He was known for his dialogue so he’s running with that, and like you say about the one setting location, definitely self indulgent and he’s every right to be as a person that could quite literally get ANY film he wanted to make produced. For lack of a better word I found it ‘fumbly’ and ‘clunky’ but there were definitely saving graces, just too damn long.

    • Three Rows Back · February 15, 2016

      Thanks for the feedback Rebecca. I think the single location actually worked; it’s just that he’s once again let himself go and there’s no-one brave enough to say ‘no’. He’s still the golden child in the minds of a lot of big hitters, least of all the Weinsteins.

  3. Stu · February 15, 2016

    Good read, and I agree with the Dickens comparison! This could have been cut down (and I’m talking about the short version) but I had some fun watching it, and even in the slower first half there was a lot to enjoy, like the photography and the music. Not his best but he’ll always get me down to the multiplex, even if I’m not quite as keen as I once was!

    • Three Rows Back · February 15, 2016

      Thanks mate. The Dickens comparison occured to me as I was putting the finisging touches to the review so I sneaked it in. Mind you I criticise QT for waxing on in his movies and then I write 1,000 words for the review!

  4. le0pard13 · February 15, 2016

    Makes me wonder what effect the late-Sally Menke would have had on QT’s work if she hadn’t died in 2010.

    • Three Rows Back · February 15, 2016

      That’s a very good point. His work has definitely slipped out of control since then, with 1h 45m movies slipping to 2h 30m and so on…

  5. The Telltale Mind · February 15, 2016

    Hopefully he will change his mind about the ten film thing, especially if he still has something worth saying.

    • Three Rows Back · February 15, 2016

      I’ll be interested in whether he sticks to that one…

  6. Zoë · February 16, 2016

    Great review. I am still looking forward to getting to this, despite the mixed reviews coming back on it. Seems that it is a good movie with quite a few flaws, which is a pity.

    • Three Rows Back · March 2, 2016

      Sorry for the late reply Zoe! Have you caught it yet?

      • Zoë · March 2, 2016

        No 😦 I know, I know, it’s terrible, but I have been so busy lately! Final wedding prep is a nightmare!

  7. ruth · February 18, 2016

    I was initially intrigued by this, but I might just rent this later. It seems really verbose and over-indulgent from what I’ve read. As you said, too much of anything can be a bad thing.

    • Three Rows Back · February 21, 2016

      Some of the violence may put you off also Ruth. Don’t get me wrong; it’s well worth viewing but it ain’t his best work.

      • ruth · February 21, 2016

        Yep I think I’ll wait for VOD on this one. Hope to see you around FC soon btw 😉

  8. Jordan Dodd · March 2, 2016

    Again, excellent writing mate. You have me wanting to watch this again as I didn’t really like it much at all. I was especially disappointed by the final showdowns… so much slo-mo, so little style. I think he is steadily going downhill, and he certainly needs to learn to edit his own work. But you are spot on, his way with dialogue is matched by few

    • Three Rows Back · March 2, 2016

      I’ll always be in line for a QT joint, but my patience will only stretch so far if he continues to serve up a three-hour movie when a two-hour (at most) will do. Thanks again Jordan.

      • Jordan Dodd · March 2, 2016

        Same, I’ll always be lining up, but this one just didn’t seem to have any iconic showdowns, like in Dogs. It was slo-mo action shots which disappointed me the most. And of course the length, three hours is a long time. I love my Tarkovsky but still….

  9. spiderharrow · March 5, 2016

    Reblogged this on shit harrow likes.

  10. Mark Walker · March 24, 2016

    Very nice review, Mark. I enjoyed this outing from QT but there’s no doubt that it’s hugely self indulgent. Some scenes go on for too long and it sometimes feels like Tarantino’s is just padding things out. That said, the dialogue and acting are juicy stuff and Tarantino is never boring. A good flick but I’m one who does think his best work is behind him.

    • Three Rows Back · April 1, 2016

      Yeah, I have to agree Mark. I simply wish that someone would sit QT down and tell the guy to return to what made his first few films so special. Sure, Pulp Fiction was long, but there was story enough for the running time. Here, not so much. Cheers for the feedback mate.

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