I’ve been a Tarantino fan for many years. I feel it’s necessary to qualify that bias straight of of the gate. Sometimes Tarantino fans can get carried away stumbling over themselves to call his latest film a masterpiece or something similar, whilst ignoring any legitimate flaws. As loath as I am to use the word, it happens with most “fandoms”, but Tarantino disciples can be pretty bullheaded in their defence of their chosen one. This may explain the mixed critical reaction to QT’s latest, The Hateful Eight, which is both the most Tarantino-ist film that ever Quentined, but also the least like his usual work.
The Hateful Eight follows a bounty hunter, John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as they travel through a blizzard so that Ruth can claim the bounty on Domergue’s head. They take refuge in a remote cabin to wait out the storm and find it occupied with several more colourful and likely untrustworthy characters.
As opposed to the roaring rampages of revenge we’ve been used to, The Hateful Eight is like an extended Agatha Christie mystery. The film spends most of the runtime in the same cold looking cabin and uses the interplay between the characters as the set dressing. There’s a wonderful creeping tension as allegiances are made and broken based on new information coming to light about the characters. It also reminded me strongly of The Thing, another Kurt Russell film. One of the criticisms (that I can’t disagree with) of Tarantino is that he stitches films together out of stand-alone scenes and sequences. Hateful Eight is a lot more like a conventional, logical story played out in front of us. It would make a fantastic stage play, something which Tarantino says he’s working on.
The Hateful Eight is in no rush to tell its story. Clocking in at just over three hours, the pace is leisurely and may frustrate some. The whole thing is rather indulgent and I can see how people have been turned off by the trudging pace. However, I must admit that I was absorbed by the whole thing. I’m a mark for Tarantino’s writing and to hear quality dialogue spoken by actors I respect and admire like Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell was a treat. As the story progresses, we do move into vintage violent territory, but by that point, I feel it has been earned. The film has been amping the tension up and it’s rather satisfying to see the balloons burst after a long time inflating.
The film is split into chapters and I agree with the detractors that one entire chapter could have been taken out and the story would have still made sense. However, I feel it makes it more of an experience, considering you’ve been in the same seat for three hours. I am aware that I’m in the minority on this one. I watch deleted scenes and director’s cuts. The Hateful Eight feels like an extended director’s cut of a film I’ve never seen the theatrical version of. It’s a little baggy narratively, but it contains more juicy dialogue and character beats for me to gorge myself on.
Do I really need to comment on the cast? They’re all seasoned actors, most of which have appeared in previous QT films, and they’re all brilliant. The title isn’t wrong either – all the characters are terrible, loathsome human beings and the cruelty on display may be too much for some people. To a twisted husk like me, it was magic. This kind of Sam L. Jackson is my favourite kind of Sam L. Jackson – quiet and reserved, but a hat drop away from being all bulgy eyed and intense. Also, the film serves as a great reminder of how good Tim Roth is. His character, Oswaldo Mobray, was easily my favourite, coming off like a cross between Christoph Waltz and Tim Curry. Newcomers to Tarantino’s collection like Jennifer Jason Leigh and Channing Tatum also do stellar work. I really hope to see them in future projects.
The Hateful Eight is perhaps not as fun or as accessible as previous films like Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. However, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It felt like a proper cinema experience. I loved the fact that Hateful Eight had an intermission built into the film itself. It’s little old-school touches such as that that makes me a fan of the man and his work. I’m not sure where it fits in with the other seven QT titles just yet, but I’m looking forward to repeat viewings to find out.