Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Premise: Set in post-Civil War Wyoming, a collection of cowboys, former soldiers, and bounty hunters take shelter from a blizzard. Tensions escalate as they suspect nefarious motives and foul play among their cabin mates.
What Works: One of Quentin Tarantino’s more endearing traits as a filmmaker is his ability to have fun with awful subject matter. In that respect, The Hateful Eight is among the most fun of Tarantino’s movies. The cast is full of unsavory characters; virtually everyone in the movie is a psychopath, a racist, or some combination of both and yet virtually all of these characters are consistently engaging and even sympathetic at times. Much of that is due to Tarantino’s writing; he is very good at playing with the audience’s sympathies, setting us up to hate a character and gradually turning our impressions. That manipulation is also due to the contributions by the actors and The Hateful Eight has some tremendous performances. The showiest role is held by Samuel L. Jackson as bounty hunter Marquis Warren. Jackson is a regular fixture of Tarantino’s work and he gets the joke of Tarantino’s writing better than anybody. Also notable is Walton Goggins as Chris Mannix, a former Confederate soldier who may or may not be the incoming sheriff of the next town. Goggins has a tricky role to play in that this man is a racist and yet he he’s also a lawman who is called to serve higher principles. In a similar way, Bruce Dern is impressive as former Confederate General Sandy Smithers; he is an old racist crank but Dern makes him sympathetic. Maybe the greatest performance of The Hateful Eight is Jennifer Jason Leigh as doomed convict Daisy Domergue. Leigh throws herself into the role and despite how much violence comes her way Leigh remains a dangerous presence in the movie. As a piece of cinema, The Hateful Eight is impressively made. Two-thirds of the story takes place inside of a cabin and the filmmakers keep the drama vibrant and the action cohesive. The movie is well shot by cinematographer Robert Richardson and it features a terrific original score by Ennio Morricone.
What Doesn’t: One of the frequent criticisms of Quentin Tarantino is that his movies are too long; as a writer as well as a director he falls in love with his own material and Tarantino does not have the discipline to par it down. That criticism is truer of some films more than others but it is certainly the case with The Hateful Eight. The movie runs just short of three hours and the story does not have the scope or scale that calls for that running time. Like most storytellers, Tarantino has recurring themes, character types, and scenarios that appear throughout his work and like several of his other films The Hateful Eight is about killers and the story confronts ideas about race and masculinity. But there is a lot of Reservoir Dogs in The Hateful Eight, so much so that it feels like a retread of Tarantino’s 1992 film. His new picture does those same things bigger and louder but does not do any of them better. In fact, the outsize nature of the characters and the bloodshed in The Hateful Eight verges on self-parody. Tarantino understands the absurdity of cinematic violence which is why so many of his films have outrageous gory effects. But unlike his other movies, the violence in The Hateful Eight sometimes comes across as self-indulgent. That may be because the themes of The Hateful Eight are less interesting than those of Tarantino’s recent films. Death Proof, Inglorious Basterds, and especially Django Unchained were provocative pieces of cinema that critiqued the relationship between entertainment and life. The Hateful Eight doesn’t have the same gravitas underlining the gore and so the film feels overdone.
Bottom Line: The Hateful Eight sits firmly in the middle of Quentin Tarantino’s filmography. It is one of the most Tarantino-esque of the director’s movies and so viewers who were lukewarm to Django Unchained won’t enjoy The Hateful Eight at all. But those who delight in Tarantino’s work will love it.
Episode: #577 (January 10, 2016)