The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino is one of those directors from whom you pretty much know what to expect. The Hateful Eight is a film that continues to allow the previous statement to be true.
The Hateful Eight is Tarantino at his most typical. For one, it relies on the idea that audiences will find copious amounts of crass dialogue, over-the-top characters, and bloody violence compelling. Proof of this is that Tarantino doesn’t offer his audience much else. It’s a take it or leave it proposition. I don’t blame him too much for this approach, it’s more or less at the core of what he has been doing his entire career. There were films where he gave us more action (Kill Bill), or more interesting stories (Pulp Fiction), or even compelling characters to cheer for and against (Inglorious Basterds). My point is that The Hateful Eight is none of these things. It’s only his bread and butter. For fans of QT, that may be enough for you to last through the 3-hour runtime, but for others you walk out of the theater wondering how such an extensive film can feel so simple.
What Tarantino has been traditionally very good at is getting his audience swept up in the story to the point where they revel in the violence and the swearing. In his previous two films, I feel like he did a great job with this. The plots of those films gave audiences a clear emotional outlet and we really believed that violence was the answer. The Hateful Eight doesn’t do this well enough for any audience member who isn’t foaming at the mouth to be able to overlook the ethical implications of what Tarantino is doing. Granted, Tarantino is always controversial, but it seems his hate-mongering and racist overtones no longer require the explanation or context previously afforded by his other films. I know it’s just a film, but many people will be offended by this one. If it seemed like there was a purpose for all of it, that would be one thing, but the film ends on an empty note. From here we see Tarantino more interested in the set-up than the pay-off. I'll say that it’s genuinely interesting at times, comedic at others, and even a little political, but that’s what we come to expect from Tarantino. This film just doesn’t put those elements to their best use for audience enjoyment and appreciation. Like the characters in The Hateful Eight, the audience feels trapped in a room, and unfortunately Tarantino is not as gracious as a guest as we typically expect.
Entertainment Factor: There’s a point in the film when Samuel L. Jackson’s character asks to “Slow it down. Slow it way down.” Tarantino, in one of many occasions in the film, is happy to sort of break down the fourth wall and oblige himself. He obliges to the point of actually having lines of dialogue delivered in slow motion. It’s played for comic effect, and indeed the film has many genuine comic moments, but this all adds to the excessive nature of the film. Nevertheless, that’s what Tarantino is known for, and it’s part of the uniqueness that we expect from his films. But when Tarantino slows things down after we are well into the second hour of his newest film, it becomes a game of patience beyond what we normally expect from him. If you have the patience, all the other calling signs are here for fans to enjoy; over-the-top characters, witty dialogue, foul language, and yes, plenty of blood. Okay (3.0/5.0)
Story: Tarantino frames his film like a western (down to an overture and intermission in the 70mm version), but it’s really just a mystery set in a western setting. Besides two early scenes, the entire three hour film takes place on a single set. The film spends most of that time in typical Tarantino fashion, witty banter and firing weapons. Let’s be honest, this is basically a play. Unfortunately, as a pseudo-play, it’s not nearly as exciting or interesting as we have come to expect from Tarantino. One of the problems is that by blending ideas and genres as Tarantino is known to do, he loses something. In this case, it’s the intrigue that drives a mystery or thriller film. He's too caught up in his characters that he forgot about a plot. Yes, it can be tense at times, but the slow pacing and unnecessary details Tarantino tries to weave in from westerns don’t really work. We miss the dynamic qualities he was able to bring to his previous films, even when they became stagnant. Okay (2.5/5.0)
Acting: A bunch of Tarantino regulars are back. Kurt Russell is his always enjoyable self as a bounty hunter and shares time with Samuel L. Jackson as a main character. He works well with Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays his foul-talking tough-as-nails bounty. She does a great job of making the character three dimensional, and truly her performance is one of the most important to the film overall. Demian Bichir plays his character over-the-top, and is enjoyable depending on how you feel about racial stereotypes. Samuel L. Jackson is as loud-mouth and in your face as always. I really enjoyed Michael Madsen’s soft-talking tough guy performance. Walton Goggins’ performance is consistent with what we have seen him do before, and veteran actor Bruce Dern continues to impress. Tim Roth nearly steals the show, also playing his character over-the-top, which is somehow fitting to the mystery premise, although the character runs out of useful things to contribute to. James Parks plays an innocent driver caught up in the mess, and he also makes an enjoyable character. The supporting cast is acceptable, but doesn’t really have the opportunity to make as strong an impression as the original nine (why isn’t it called Hateful Nine?). Good (4.0/5.0)
Direction: I think this is one of Tarantino’s weakest films as directors. It’s true that he gets good things out of his actors, but he doesn’t contribute much else. It’s one thing to not want to distract from the story by adding too many stylistic touches or structuring the film too rigidly, but this film needed that patented Tarantino creativity. The truth is that the film is somewhat constricted by its singular setting, but it just goes on for too long. I feel like half of the film could have been cut and we would have had the same result. There are too many inconsequential moments or cuts, and when something important does happen, Tarantino makes sure to show it to you a couple times (even to the point of adding his voice as unnecessary narration halfway through). Some of the shots seem repetitive as Tarantino uses the same camera angles to show different events happening in the same spot. It makes the film feel like it’s going round and round. Of course, when the action does pick up Tarantino returns to his old self and makes sure to exploit the violence for all its "glory" (I almost typed gorey). Okay (3.0/5.0)
Production: The film looks pretty good overall. The filmmakers did a great job with costumes, makeup, and blood effects. The stylized costumes especially give the film a cool if not historically accurate vibe that goes along with the larger than life characters and their dramatic tendencies. The scenery is also good, but limited in its appearance on screen, and the “blizzard” sequences aren’t as realistic as they could be. What steals the show is the music. For once Tarantino has a lot of original composed music, and if only it could have been used more it may have improved the meandering tone of the film. Overall, The Hateful Eight is a Tarantino film through and through. There are no surprises and it is consistent with what he has already done. That’s fine, but for a filmmaker who often pushed the boundaries you can’t help but expect more from him. Okay (2.5/5.0)
What’s Bad: An hour too long, singular setting makes the film feel like a foul-mouthed play, not enough creativity in direction, repetitive and unnecessary storytelling techniques, revels in being offensive and derogatory.