The Hateful Eight
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Damian Bachir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Channing Tatum
Auteur filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is arguably one of the great American talents. His films which he writes, directs, produces and often edits, create such fanfare that the noise, more than anything, drive people to the theater. The Hateful Eight marks the two time Oscar winning screenwriters eighth feature film. After the script leaked online the buzz began for the film, then Tarantino helped theaters retrofit projectors to display the film in 70mm (the digital debut won’t hit cinemas until about a month later). Hefty embargoes on critics, a 12 minute overture before the film begins and a 21 minute intermission all mean the anticipation is obviously high for the film, but it’s all that “stuff” that makes The Hateful Eight an experience, not the movie itself. It’s violent, it’s slow and steady, it’s many of the same faces we recognize in other films but what I realized the most is the genius behind Tarantino is not what he puts on screen but the buildup.
John “Hangman” Ruth (Russell) is traveling through an 1888 Wyoming winter blizzard in a stagecoach with his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Leigh) when they come upon Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) nearly frozen with his four deceased bounty. After disarming and dismantling the Major, the two men realize they are previously acquainted and agree to help each other get to Red Rock. The pick up one more freezing passenger before arriving at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a midway point before their destination. Inside they find four more gruff travelers that make an already paranoid Ruth even more anxious, but his reputation and mission allow him to take control of the room while the snowstorm rages outside.
No other filmmaker could get away with this, teasing the audience for the full length of normal movie, before even getting started.
The Hateful Eight has more preemptive opening sequences than Lord of the Rings had endings, of course this allows the viewer to soak up the original score and get in the right mind frame. One thing Tarantino does better than anyone is create a sense of uncomfortable dialogue that signifies oncoming violence. Like his other films, this one is told in chapters, usually with ironic titles: “Chapter 1, Last Ride to Red Rock” or “Chapter 5, Four Passengers”. This story works like a puzzle, with each character adding a new piece to a bigger picture and of course nothing is ever what it seems. Inspired by 1960’s television westerns, Tarantino frames this three and half hour film more like a whodunit, but instead of worry yourself about the plot, we all know to just sit back and wait for the impending third act bloodbath.
The first 90 minutes (before intermission) are incredibly slow as it builds backstories and allows the audience to familiarize themselves with the nasty, bloody, broken face of Leigh’s Domergue. She more than anyone else seems to be waiting to unveil her true nature, Leigh’s performance, one of the most memorable, and likely the films only chance at an acting nomination. Although Jackson is given more of a lead role and reminds us why we love him so much. After the intermission, halfway mark, first death, things seem to be ready to fire up until Jackson’s character, basically impersonating Tarantino (and laughing at the audience), looks at the camera and says “Let’s slow it down, way down”. No other filmmaker could get away with this, teasing the audience for the full length of normal movie, before even getting started. Both Django Unchained and Inglorious Bastards landed best picture nominations as Tarantino, in his own way, curated the films around historical subject matter, seemingly making a very violent film feel important. After it’s all said and done, The Hateful Eight doesn’t knock you out of your seat like The Revenant did with visuals, or Room does with story, or even Sicario and tension, it’s more of the same which should appease Tarantino’s fans.
Tarantino’s violent western offers more preshow fanfare than cinematic goalpost movement.