THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) review
written by: Quentin Tarantino
produced by: Richard N. Gladstein, Shannon McIntosh and Stacey Sher
directed by: Quentin Tarantino
rated: R (R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity)
runtime: 176 min.
U.S. release date: December 25, 2015 (70mm roadshow) and January 8, 2016 (wide)
“The Hateful Eight” is the eighth full-length feature from writer/director Quentin Tarantino. See what he did there? It’s a Western, like his last film – although I would consider “Django Unchained” a Southern – and also the third film being released on Christmas Day. So, Tarantino fans anxious to revisit his snappy dialogue, graphic violence and loose profanity are in for a holiday treat. As for me, I definitely went in wanting to like it, but I wound up leaving my first viewing a little perturbed as I was reminded how the excitable the filmmaker likes to get in the way of his own material. Whether or not Tarantino makes an appearance in his films (as he needlessly did in “Django Unchained“) or provides his characters with overlong monologues that are designed to push buttons, he has a tendency of making his presence known which can elicit a ripcord effect – at least for me. Since “Inglorious Basterds, he’s been emphasizing a “look what I’m doing now!” approach, like a giggling jokester stoking the fire of controversy that winds up polarizing viewers (except for his die-hard fans).
In post-Civil War Wyoming, a blizzard has halted travel for Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a former Union soldier turned bounty hunter. Along a desolate snowy trail, he comes across a stagecoach driven by O.B. (James Parks), which carries another bounty hunter, John “The Hangman” Ruth (a fantastic Kurt Russell) – known for bringing in his captors alive and delivering them to the gallows himself – who’s escorting feral outlaw, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to the town of Red Rock where a noose awaits her. Ruth reluctantly gives Warren and his pile of bounty corpses a lift and makes it clear of his plans to collect the ten grand on Domergue’s head. They agree to give another lone figure a lift, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a former Southern rebel who claims he’s the new Sheriff of Red Rock.
As the snowstorm increases, the coach winds up stopping at a mountain pass pit stop called Minnie’s Haberdashery, where the encounter a variety of shifty lodgers. There’s Bob the Mexican (a cartoonish Demian Bichir), who supposedly runs the place, a Englishman named Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth, a welcome presence, who seems to be taking a Christoph Waltz role) who reveals he is the hangman of Red Rock, former Confederate General Sanford “Sandy” Smithers (Bruce Dern) and quite cowboy, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen). The suspicious Ruth tries to ascertain who these hardened individuals are seeing as how he and his bounty will be holed up with them for an indeterminable amount of time. As their stories are told, paranoia and tensions rise, revealing lies and true motives which result in brutal violence.
NOTE: If you’re wondering just how brutal the violence is, consider the fact that make-up artist/director Greg Nicotero (of “The Walking Dead” fame) gets second billing under director as the end credits roll.
Tarantino, ever the Monologue Man, builds “The Hateful Eight” entirely out of verbose, often tedious speeches from the majority of his players here, in a movie that is broken up into six chapters. He revels in his slow burn on these suspicious characters, especially once they’re all assembled at Minnie’s. Things are obviously not what they seem, which is no surprise to anyone familiar with Tarantino’s work.
Here he presents a specific tone – something akin to an Agatha Christie whodunit (something the filmmaker has admitted to) in a location that could be prime for a stage production. But, Tarantino is thinking bigger, which is why he filmed in 70 mm using Ultra Panavision 70 with an aspect ratio of 2.76: 1 (which was used on movies in the 50s and 60s, such as “Ben-Hur” and “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”) – meaning it’s bigger and wider than any other movie currently in theaters and it plays to Tarantino’s film geek sensibilities. In the preferred Roadshow version that is playing in limited theaters, there’s an overture and a 12-minute intermission with music composed by spaghetti Western legend Ennio Morricone (who provides new and previously unused music) – heck, there’s even the inclusion of a Roy Orbison tune from “The Fastest Guitar Alive”.
As a fan of the Western genre and the films of Tarantino, I was all set. But something happened between the overture and intermission that soured my viewing experience. I became too aware of Tarantino’s self-indulgent provocative ways, which found him providing these rich characters with juicy wink-wink, nudge-nudge moments that prevented me from experiencing the full immersion I craved.
Then, right before the intermission, Tarantino has Jackson’s Major Warren relish a monologue that provides an overlong graphic mental image solely designed to instigate a particular character. It works in context, but it didn’t work for me. The whole sequence reminded me that I was watching a movie and a particularly showy bit (for an actor born to spout Tarantino’s dialogue) during a moment that was likely written by a giggling writer. I’m not going to go into the details of this specific scene, except that it is strangely backed by a piano accompaniment of “Silent Night”, but let’s just say it had nothing to do with a “less is more” approach (something I prefer).
Granted, it’s a very Tarantino moment and it shouldn’t upset me if I expect to see such a prominent display of his affinity for – sexual explicit details, an unlimited use of the N-word and comical/shocking graphic violence often used to relate to current (or timeless) hot topics – but the movie was just so good leading up to that moment.
Unfortunately, the movie didn’t quite recover after the intermission. We return to the haberdashery to a chapter entitled, “Domergue’s Got a Secret”, to find the voice of Tarantino himself suddenly narrating his movie and then reiterating the reason for the chapter title. If his writing just prior to the intermission didn’t pull viewers out of his movie, now we have his voice. All of this is unnecessary and is just another example of Tarantino tripping over himself. His narration feels more like a geek commentary, offering very little to the picture and had me frustrated from henceforth. It’s as if he could find no other way to reveal his plot twist than to sit right next to us and hold our hands.
If only someone could reign Tarantino in and let him know how great his movie would be if he would just get out of its way. He has a powder keg of a plot and a solid ensemble of eight that know how to speak his language – why isn’t that enough for him?
Much of his eight are returning Tarantino players, except for Bichir and Jennifer Jason Leigh, the latter of which is by far the standout here. She gets shoved around pushed over and punched in the face (mostly by her captor, whom she’s handcuffed to throughout the entire movie), but the actress rolls with it all, spending the entire movie toothless, with a black eye and blood (hers and others) all over her face. Critics and audiences may cry misogyny, but she is clearly having fun building her character as the story unfolds. She also picks up a guitar in the haberdashery and sings “Jim Jones at Botany Bay” a tender ditty, that offers more layers to her character. Out of all the characters, Daisy Domergue is the one I wanted to know more about.
There are other actors show up eventually, such as Zoë E. Bell, Lee Horsley, Dana Gourrier, Gene Jones and Tarantino newcomer Channing Tatum (in a role that could’ve gone to anyone), but the focus is understandably on the titular eight and while Russell, Jackson and Goggins are great, Jason Leigh – someone I’ve long admired – ends up with the performance that lingered with me.
Much of “The Hateful Eight” feels repetitive, but the enjoyment of seeing most of the actors fit so comfortably in their roles almost makes up for that. If about twenty minutes were sliced off his 3-hour running time, it’s doubtful anyone would miss much. Tarantino reunites with “Django Unchained” editor Fred Raskin here, but he seemed to have been blinded by the director’s padding. Maybe an editor new to Tarantino’s work is needed. The movie does looks exquisite though, from the moment we see the stagecoach make its way across a snowy landscape to the fine details inside the spacious haberdashery – with cinematography duties handled by Robert Richardson, who worked on both “Kill Bill” volumes (come to think of it, much of “Vol. 2” could’ve been pruned as well).
Right now, I’m on the fence with “The Hateful Eight” and I don’t know if a second viewing in 70mm will help. For the record, my one viewing so far was a DCP of the Roadshow version, but it wasn’t in 70mm, so it’s fair to say I didn’t experience the intended effect. Still, since my problems with the movie had little to do with screen presentation as it did its substance and the unrestrained gratification of Tarantino, I doubt another viewing will turn me around.