The opening credits for The Hateful Eight inform the viewer that this is Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film; a bit of self-aggrandizement, I thought. But then, he is after all one of the great ‘young’ (born after 1960) American auteurs, along with Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith. OK, so maybe not Kevin Smith anymore, as he’s spent the last few years just being a fanboy without actually doing anything critically acclaimed.
The Hateful Eight is technically a Western, set in Wyoming in the late 1800s, some years after the Civil War. But it is also a locked-room mystery, like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. And although it was shot on 65mm film with Panavision anamorphic lenses to give an ultra-widescreen cinematic experience, it could just as easily have been made into a small play…in fact, Tarantino conducted a public live reading of an earlier draft of the script at a theater in LA.
When you think about a QT film, it’s ultimately all about the ensemble of characters, about their interaction and dialogue. About the “art of the protracted scene”, as one film critic puts it. And blood. Lots of it.
There are 4 actors that really stood out for me in this movie.
Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character Daisy Domergue is easily the most hateful of the eight people stranded in an isolated cabin in the midst of a blizzard. In fact, she could be right up there with the most hated female screen characters of all time along with Amy Dunne (Gone Girl), Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), Annie Wilkes (Misery) and Baby Jane (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?).
Kurt Russell started his career playing squeaky clean teenagers in Disney movies and TV shows (check out The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes from 1969). For me, his most memorable performances have come after the 1980s playing rough-hewn, morally ambiguous characters in Westerns and quasi-westerns like Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, Tombstone, Stargate and more recently in QT’s own Death Proof. His bounty hunter John Ruth (aka “The Hangman”) in The Hateful Eight falls into the same mould.
Samuel L. Jackson has the most screen time in the film. I think back to the first time I saw him, as the chain-smoking chief engineer who “can’t get Jurassic Park back online!”. He was so earnest, serious and straightforward (I hadn’t seen his earlier Spike Lee films yet at that point). He then hit the big time in QT’s Pulp Fiction and since then, has become well-known for his angry, outspoken, over-the-top characters (except for the forgettable Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequels). He continues in the same vein here as an ex-Army Major turned bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren, a man who has spent a lifetime facing racist hatred and has plenty of hatred to give back.
Tim Roth’s plays Englishman Oswald Mobray. His almost-fruity mincing accent reminded me of Christoph Waltz’s over-cultivated manner in Inglourious Basterds. I would’ve enjoyed having more screen time from him.
The music is composed by 87-year-old legend Ennio Morricone who has partnered with QT for many of his other films as well. In fact, he has a Golden Globe nomination for this film and I would love to see him get an Oscar nom as well for this minimalist composition that almost feels like a horror movie score at times.
I loved many little touches in the film, all of which have been carefully planned and are not there by chance:
- The credits appear during a single shot of the carriage approaching through the snow, with a wooden Jesus in the foreground.
- Out of the six horses pulling the carriage, the front right horse is white.
- While the characters are talking inside the carriage, you can hear the constant yelling of the driver whipping the horses through the snow.
- The passing scenery seen through the carriage window looks ‘flat’, like it’s been projected on a screen (as it would have been in a cheap 1970s film, which all QT films are homages to).
- The inside of Minnie’s Haberdashery appears too large in comparison with its appearance from the outside.
- There’s a jelly bean (yes, they’ve been around since the 1860s) fallen in the gap between the floorboards near the coffee pot; the significance becomes clear later.
- Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s characters while eating their stew behave like a long-married couple, which is hilarious considering their actual relationship in the movie
- Bob plays Silent Night on the piano while Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) describes what he did to General Smither’s (Bruce Dern) son; the simple and pious tune makes what Major Warren is saying even more horrifying.
- The many, many times the front door of the cabin has to be hammered shut.
In the end, all the people who deserve a comeuppance get their comeuppance. Since this movie is called The Hateful Eight, you can kinda guess how the movie ends! Here’s a clue: there’s lots of blood. I’ve discovered through trial-and-error, that I can handle gunshot wound blood better than knife/ sword wound blood. Hence my discomfort watching Kill Bill Vols. I and II.
After the movie ended, a cliché paraphrased into my mind: “QT could film paint drying and I would watch it”. I’m pretty sure he would be able to infuse something interesting into such a mundane event.
This is not going to rank as my favorite QT film (that continues to be Basterds). But full credit to the man for attempting something different and challenging. His attention to detail – both dialogue and sets – is astonishing. Metacritic gives it a score of 69, well below Django Unchained (81), Grindhouse (77), Kill Bill Vol. II (83), Reservoir Dogs (78) and Pulp Fiction (the highest at 94). I believe that as the years go by, the film will rise in the estimation of critics and film historians.