The Hateful Eight Review
Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film features scores of eccentric dialogue, bouts of gratuitous violence, postmodernist tendencies, outlandish characters and a clear subversion of classic genres. In fact, you could call The Hateful Eight the very definition of Tarantino-esque. It seems absurdly obvious to brand his very own film with such a label, but The Hateful Eight really does epitomise everything that the cinephile director is about, for better and for worse.
Like a rickety old wagon traversing the Oregon Trail, The Hateful Eight hurtles through peaks of pristine filmmaking and troughs of baffling farcicality. Occasionally the film’s claustrophobic confines mirror the intrigue and intensity of Reservoir Dogs, but too often his own unconventional genius can’t filter between the good, the bad and the downright ugly ideas. Although, with an Ennio Morricone score, a sleuthing Samuel L. Jackson and a good ol’ fashioned slow-motion shootout you’re never far from entertainment.
Divided into wholly self-aware chapters, the narrative begins with a carriage, negotiating Wyoming’s snowy landscape, carrying John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his foul mouthed bounty Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). During their journey to Little Rock, where Domergue will face the noose, they stumble across two nomadic strangers; Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). Ruth reluctantly, meaning both are handcuffed and disarmed, takes the hitchhikers in from the cold. With the weather taking a blizzardly turn for the worst, the quartet are forced to take refuge at Minnie’s Haberdashery.
Holed up in Minnie’s, the hateful four become the titular hateful eight. The four new additions come in the form of stoic cowhand Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), oleaginous Englishman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Civil War General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) and the modestly titled hispanic Senor Bob (Demian Bichir).
Soon enough Domergue’s value becomes apparent to the group, a hefty £10,000 to be precise, and paranoia courses through the room like a toxic poison. It’s at this point the narrative becomes an offbeat rendition of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, And Then There Were None. Just of course, with more violence, swearing and references to “warm black dingus”.
Once you look beyond the brash façade of graphic violence and pop culture appropriation, Tarantino’s forte has always been writing stellar dialogue and The Hateful Eight is wonderful example of his gifted way with words. Like Reservoir Dogs, the isolated location lends itself to dialogue rather than action.
The first hour of the film is purely conversational in the confines of the carriage. For the most part it’s mundane situational chat, but Tarantino’s knack of creating vivid, engrossing, and quite often comical, exchanges is on full show. Of course, it’s not quite as iconic as royale with cheese in Pulp Fiction or that mesmerising opening to Inglorious Basterds, but the early Civil War sparring between Mannix and Warren is sublimely loaded with threat and menace. In fact, a flash of maturity in Tarantino’s work is evident in the way racial and societal tensions are readily explored within the context of America’s recently unified state.
In an unfortunately equal flash of immaturity, Tarantino struggles to contain his own puerile glee for the extreme and absurd. Every time we become fully immersed in the film we’re thrown a disorientating head explosion or bout of comical projectile vomiting. The most polarising moment comes in the form of a leftfield tale of how someone was tortured to death by fellatio. It’s a postmodernist and Brechtian touch to remind the viewer they’re watching mere fiction, but in the Hateful Eight these moments are tonally misjudged and badly forced.
Tarantino has conjured up a motley crew of amoral outcasts to make up the despicable octuplet. Each one has a distinctively cultivated personality with no half measures in sight. This bold approach can lend itself to caricatures rather than characters. This is the case with Russell’s John Ruth whose threatening booms resemble a knock off John Wayne tribute and Tim Roth’s disingenuous English gent who’s riddled with cliché. However, for others Tarantino’s singular vision is a new lease of life. Such an outstanding beneficiary is Walton Goggins.
As Chris Mannixx, Goggins is one of the few truly multi-dimensional characters stalking the cabin’s confines. Upon arrival, his southern drool and confederate connections make him the classic ingratiating racist, but as the scenario becomes increasingly complex he grows into a key player. His consistent rapport with Tarantino veteran Samuel L. Jackson is a highlight and their uneasy alliance forms the compelling mainstay of the narrative. They’re not Jules and Vince in Pulp Fiction, but Major Warren and Sheriff Manixx have a similarly entertaining relationship built on antagonism and one-upmanship.
Based on Tarantino’s filmography we can hazard a fairly good guess as to the outcome of eight brash characters, suspicious of one another, locked in a room. The real question is how we get to this inevitable conclusion. Without giving too much away, the narrative revolves around captive Daisy Domergue and who, of the other seven, are inconspicuously in cahoots with her.
This mystery unravels in hugely tentative, quite often meandering, steps for the first half before a blast of rushed exposition, via flashback, that hands us the big reveal. It’s a deeply unsatisfying sucker punch that discards our prior investment in the narrative. All the dialogue and dynamics suddenly seem totally incongruous with the story. It’s as if Tarantino couldn’t be bothered with the complexity of working the mystery into his script, so just blatantly explained it to the audience.
Ostensibly The Hateful Eight is a mesmerising piece of brazen filmmaking. The problem is that the plot is an afterthought behind the stylish aesthetics. It’s merely a thin sinew that ties scenes together, rather than a sturdy backbone the action can blossoms from. Unlike Jackie Brown or Pulp Fiction, we’re never fully convinced about the ties that bind the action and characters together. There’s a little too much padded out explanation and exposition for the story to organically flow. In many ways it’s very similar to its predecessor Django Unchained, in that it’s a bloody raucous hoot void of any subtle nuances.
As the film’s violence begins, Major Warren, seemingly possessed by Tarantino, takes stock and asks us rhetorically; “Startin’ to see pictures, ain’t ya?” The answer is imaginatively in the affirmative; but just don’t ask us if we’re seeing any narrative.
7.5/10 – The Likeable Eight