I am a Tarantinophile. I can vividly remember the first time I saw a Tarantino movie. I was fourteen years old, and my family had gotten one of those super cable packages that included HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax on demand. Ironically it was my mother, a woman who vociferously hates cursing and violence, who recommended Pulp Fiction to me. I reluctantly tuned to the uncensored HBO showing of this film expecting a miserable affair, but I was instantly hooked by Tarantino’s trademarks: witty banter, extreme violence, bizarre circumstances and situations, and above all his love of movies. Having said all that, The Hateful Eight, is not my favorite Tarantino film. It has the pomp and circumstance of his latter releases (Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained), yet it suffers from what I’d term a ‘reverse Kill Bill’, with much of the setup coming in the first half, and much of the brutal violence coming in the second. The Hateful Eight, like most of Tarantino’s films, is a unique violent medley but it’s not among his best. The film’s interesting premise is let down by a plodding first half which is punctuated by an extremely bizarre scene.
The plot of The Hateful Eight is simple, eight strangers are snowbound together in the middle of nowhere, while suspicions of a conspiracy cause things take an extremely violent turn. The film was photographed in Ultra Panavision 70mm, for extra wide angle shots, but it appears to be a missed opportunity as a majority of the film takes place in a single room. This isn’t to imply that the film isn’t well shot, or gorgeous, because it's both. It takes the setting and style of a spaghetti western as its bedrock to explore a mystery. The Hateful Eight then devolves into the most violent game of Clue ever. Having watched both the Roadshow version and the digital ‘regular’ version I can say that the differences between the two are negligible. The digital version lacks the Intermission, Overture, and minor scenes. The score, composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone, is a definitive highlight; bombastic, haunting, and wonderfully evil, the score does an amazing job at setting a foreboding tone and keeping tension high as the plot heats up.
The Hateful Eight is in dire need of an editor. Tarantino loves to hear himself talk, and it is never more evident than in this film. The first half seems like an endless barrage of quirky character introductions and development, which is classic Tarantino, the difference being the pace is deliberately slow. The action slowly progresses to Minnie’s Haberdashery where the film's action and narrative begin pick up. Characters repeat themselves multiple times as scenes go on longer than they should have. In spite of that, the spoken language is a crucial lynchpin in the film. Seriously, pay attention to what characters say, there's often deliberate and delightful foreshadowing in the dialogue.
In spite of the plodding nature of the first half, the film is still entertaining. The characters are all well written and as the title suggests are ‘hateable’. There isn’t a good guy or hero among the bunch. The All Star cast is led by Samuel L. Jackson portraying himself (come on you all know what I mean, he’s going to yell, curse, and be a violent badass) as Major Marquis Warren, a bounty hunter who previously served in the Civil War. This is wishful thinking on my part, but it seems as though Tim Roth’s character, The Hangman, was written for Tarantino Star Christoph Waltz. He has many of the same quirky mannerisms that Waltz brought to his Tarantino roles and even quotes some lines from Django verbatim.
Jennifer Jason Leigh does a stellar job as the only female, Daisy, and she is perhaps the most evil and savage of the Eight. Violence against Daisy is often played for laughs, but this is turned on its head in the second half in the most horrific of ways. While every actor bring their ‘A’ game in this impeccably cast film, Walton Goggins as Sheriff Chris Mannix deserves special mention. This is not only because of Goggins’ expressive face, but also because he portrays what you think will be just a racist southern stereotype of the era. Yet, while he is a racist caricature, his character arc is oddly one of the strongest emotional cores of the movie. His ignorance and racism are used for comedic relief, but deep down he’s an honorable man with grossly violent and backwards ways. His interaction with the only black, and equally racist Jackson, are the best parts of the film.
Yes, you’ve likely already heard about it, I’m talking about that scene. Tarantino has always had a love of the grindhouse cinema, blaxploitation, revenge films, extreme violence and the like. His hallmarks like graphic violence, excessive banter, liberal use of the ‘N word’, chapters, etc are all present in The Hateful Eight. In addition to those mentioned, many of his films have one surreal moment that’s so odd it takes the viewer a moment to adjust. In The Hateful Eight, that scene is so jarring and gratuitous it almost breaks the film. It definitely ruined the entire scene, which up until that point had been a gorgeous homage to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. It doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the film, and seems to have been filmed for its shock value alone.
The Hateful Eight will go down as a lesser Tarantino film, but that's only because he’s set the bar so high for himself. It’s an above average Tarantino film that occasionally has moments of greatness. The film’s strengths lie in its direction, strong narrative, well defined and acted characters, and its sinister score. But at the same time the film is paradoxically held back by some of the same things that make it great: the excessive verbiage in the plodding first half, the direction chosen to film that aforementioned scene, and its length (which is felt only in the first half). Its ending is a strange cathartic mix that’s one of the ‘happiest’, considering everything that comes before it. I highly recommend giving The Hateful Eight a watch, but be prepared.
TLDR: The Hateful Eight is a violent, bizarre, mystery driven film that is held back by its plodding first half, its length, and a bizarre scene. It’s still a unique Tarantino film, which is acted, scored, and directed with aplomb. 3.75/5 Stars