Directed by: Quentin Tarantino || Produced by: Richard N. Gladstein, Shannon McIntosh, Stacey Sher
Screenplay by: Quentin Tarantino || Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern
Music by: Ennio Morricone || Cinematography: Robert Richardson || Edited by: Fred Raskin || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 187 minutes
Movie-lovers, it’s that time of every three years or whatever — a new Quentin Tarantino film is here! Announced in 2013 as a spiritual sequel to Django Unchained (2012), the villainy filled Hateful Eight was temporarily shelved when its script was leaked online in early 2014. Tarantino considered publishing the story as a novel instead, but a well received live reading of the script later that year inspired him to go through with the project after rewriting the ending. I’m glad he decided to do so, because The Hateful Eight is a great film, as well as welcome step above his previous film, Django. On the surface, this film had everything to suggest it might be my least favorite Tarantino film yet, instead of one of my favorites: A three-hour running time, a story set almost entirely in one location, a production nearly halted by spite, and the fact that it is yet another Tarantino western riff. But I had a great time with the film. Go figure.
The Hateful Eight is simultaneously Tarantino’s most ambitious and restrained film. On the one hand, it’s his longest by far at three hours and seven minutes, is filled with 8-9 despicable villains (depending on how you count) with no clear protagonist, and was primarily shot on “glorious” 70mm Panavision. On the other hand, the story is largely restricted to one indoor location, the film retains Tarantino’s vintage gore and extreme violence, and the cast boasts some of the highest profile actors around. It’s hard to tell which of these features would put more of a strain on Tarantino’s style. The Hateful Eight is his first film to be scored by a professional composer (Ennio Morricone, his first western soundtrack in forty years), but most filmmakers use a background score by default. Is that a risky move by Tarantino or a safe one? Filming an entire story in one location simplifies photography, but can be a huge strain on the story, particularly one that’s three hours long. Risky or safe? What about a cast composed entirely of bad guys? That’s risky for most filmmakers but traditional for Tarantino.
In any case, The Hateful Eight (TH8) is another hard-boiled, incendiary film that will split most moviegoers right down the middle. Most mainstream critics don’t have enough balls to challenge Tarantino’s name and street cred, and he’s more than entertaining enough for general audiences, but plenty of prudes will remain offended by his crude humor, over-the-top violence, and longwinded storytelling. In other words, this movie won’t convert any haters.
What makes this film work for me are Tarantino’s traditional cinematic strengths, as well as some new skills he’s learned in the past three years. TH8 is filled with villainous scumbags, but interesting and oddly relatable scumbags nonetheless. Tarantino brings out the best in each cast member as he usually does, demonstrating that he remains one of the top actor-directors in the business. However, the biggest selling points of these fascinating, multilayered characters are not the actors’ chemistry with one another, but rather their personality traits, their backstories, and their relationships on paper.
TH8 also recalls Tarantino’s expert pacing as well. One of the major drawbacks of Django Unchained in my mind was how long and poorly paced it felt, a rarity within Tarantino’s filmography. The 70mm Roadshow version of TH8 runs 22 minutes longer than DU and yet feels much smoother and more satisfying. Part of this superior pacing is the much discussed intermission that plays during the midpoint of the film, and occurs after arguably the most shocking and gut-wrenching moment in the story. Whether you’ll watch this extended version in theatres or at home, Tarantino’s decision to go full old-school-western-homage with a 12-minute overture was a classy and appropriate move.
TH8‘s biggest strength is an unsurprising one: Tarantino’s direction. Nearly every shot is bursting with detail and cinematic intimacy, whether the camera gazes at extreme long shots of the Wyoming wilderness, the cramped interior of a bounty hunter’s stage coach, or the ominous, low-lit cabin of Minnie’s Haberdashery. TH8 features some of Tarantino’s best drama yet, with great dialogue melding with even better cinemtography and visual storytelling to yield some of 2015’s most tense cinematic moments. If the screenplay’s pacing is on point, then Robert Richardson’s cinematographic eye and Fred Raskin’s editing are immaculate. I had a bad feeling about someone of even Tarantino’s skill making a three-hour movie in one room, but here again he proves me wrong.
Not all is perfect with this film, of course, as Tarantino’s over-the-top style can wear on even the most dedicated fan. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character receives far too much physical abuse that simply comes across as poor taste rather than brutal physical comedy. The film’s ending is satisfactory but feels somewhat underwhelming compared to, say, Inglorious Basterds (2009) or even Kill Bill (2003-2004). Also, some of the old-timey lingo feels grating for the first 45 minutes before you start to settle into the groove of the setting’s historical period.
Other than that, though, The Hateful Eight is a smooth western ride that demonstrates Quentin Tarantino’s utter command of his craft. We should all stop questioning his decision making and, at times, insufferable ego given how consistent he is at producing masterpiece after masterpiece. The occasional Death Proof (2007) or Jackie Brown (1997) notwithstanding, the man pushes the envelope with each release and demonstrates just how versatile and shocking cinema can be. If there ever was an auteur for the Millennial Generation to look up to, it’s Quentin Tarantino.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: The Hateful Eight combines a perfectly paced script with perfectly paced editing and camerawork to create an entertaining, brutal adventure — one set almost entirely within the confines of a single room. That’s good directing. Tarantino also continues his streak of writing top-notch dialogue and bringing out the best in his actors. He even turns Channing Tatum into a good actor.
— However… having a traditional score for this film was probably the safer bet than Tarantino’s usual eclectic mix of pop songs, but the fact remains TH8 is without a doubt his least memorable soundtrack. The film’s climax is also relatively safe, despite its effective political commentary, and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s physical abuse is unnecessary. Some of the throwback accents, mannerisms, and dialects are distracting, despite Tarantino’s illustrious writing.
? Walton Goggins: The only time when white folks feel safe is when niggas are scared. Samuel L. Jackson: The only time when niggas feel safe is when white folks are disarmed.