Quentin Tarantino is back for his eighth film and it’s an absolute blast.
“When the handbill says “dead or alive”, the rest of us just shoot you in the back from up on top a perch somewhere and bring you in dead over a saddle. But when John Ruth the Hangman catches you…you hang!” – Major Marquis Warren
I watched the 70mm presentation aka the roadshow version at the Odeon Leicester Square. Filmed in Ultra Panavision 70, The Hateful Eight takes full advantage of the format. The wintery, snow filled landscape was beautiful to look at. Producing a large film print that took the Odeon staff 6 hours to construct, this version includes an overture, a 12 minute intermission and a souvenir program.
It’s a homage and a retro throwback to epic cinema presentations such as Ben-Hur and Battle of the Bulge. If you’re curious and can endure the three hour plus runtime (which I never felt bored), then The Hateful Eight is certainly worth it as a unique cinematic experience.
The premise of The Hateful Eight is relatively simple and straightforward. The film is John Carpenter’s The Thing meets The Usual Suspects meets an Agatha Christie novel. It’s a very clever mashup of styles where not everything is what it seems and every character has a secret and a convenient backstory. If Django Unchained was a blaxploitation wrapped up in a Western then The Hateful Eight is a 1940s/50s film noir thriller wrapped up in a Western and you are the detective.
To further add to my point, The Hateful Eight is very ubiquitous. Each cast member feels like a character off a Cluedo boardgame. Because the construct is tightly focussed and put together, it could work in any setting or time period. In fact it could easily be a stage play and that aspect certainly works as part of the 70mm presentation.
Ennio Morricone’s brilliant score doesn’t even sound like a Western. Again as illustrated above, it plays like a film noir with some familiar elements from The Thing (which coincidently he scored). His music is simple and melodic, hinting at the mystery and the duplicity of the situation. Because every moment is key, Morricone’s music forces you to pay attention to the scenes instead of being distracted by a song from Tarantino’s playlist. There are one or two moments where Tarantino’s trademark does come into play but the fact that majority of the film is scored makes a huge difference in terms of tone and atmosphere.
“One of them fellas is not what he says he is…” – John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth
The familiar Tarantino trademarks are present throughout The Hateful Eight and if you’ve come this far with all his movies, then there won’t be any surprises. His heavy dialogue always and consistently takes you on a journey until it reaches a critical moment of relevance.
If there are weaknesses in The Hateful Eight then it certainly belongs at the beginning of the film. The film takes its time establishing the characters and their stories. The doubts will follow and you’ll wonder whether there’s a point to the dialogue. But bare with it – it does become relevant in the build up of the characters, exposing their past lives, occupation and beliefs.
If that’s the film’s only weakness, then the film dramatically picks up when all the characters are together in Minnie’s Haberdashery, sheltering themselves from the blizzard. From here, prepare yourself for a twisty ride full of suspense, paranoia, some brilliant dialogue and Tarantino’s trademark humour.
All the conversations take place in one room, hence my reasoning about this film being good enough for a stage play. The tightly confined area doesn’t allow any character to have their breathing space and immediately it’s John Ruth (Kurt Russell) who stamps his authority. He constantly announces who he is, his job in taking Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to hang and how much money the job is worth. That naturally paints a target on his back for all the crazy shenanigans that takes place in the haberdashery.
Because the film is set in the aftermath of the American Civil War, The Hateful Eight becomes an opinionated commentary on life post war. There’s an uneasy tension between Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) and Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). The confrontation is not pretty with Smithers and Mannix using deplorable racial language to get their viewpoints across. It’s a social context illustrating how torn society is and how much there’s still work to be done in changing hearts and minds.
Just like the title of this film, there’s no redeeming features so don’t expect heroes or characters to root for. However that doesn’t stop them from being compelling! Every single member of the cast are fantastic.
The overall star performer belongs to Samuel L. Jackson. It’s not like you have to be told how good he is as an actor but if you want a further demonstration of his talents, then look no further.
He expertly delivers Tarantino’s dialogue with style and swagger, especially in one particular scene which was reminiscent of Pulp Fiction. It’s a scene which was more out of provocation than actual truth. It starts off as a subtle conversation and then suddenly you’re swept up in the moment and find yourself at the edge of your seat. He’s also responsible for the funniest moments in the film and steals every scene he’s in.
Tim Roth and Jennifer Jason Leigh also shine with their strong performances.
“Move a little strange, you’re gonna get a bullet. Not a warning, not a question…a bullet.” – Major Marquis Warren
The Hateful Eight is not for the faint hearted. If Tarantino had ambitions of directing a horror movie in the future, then he’s certainly used this film as a foundation. The Hateful Eight is incredibly violent and brutal. Some scenes come out of the blue with Jennifer’s character being on the end of that beating. And since this film is a homage to The Thing, there is one scene which delivers its shock value. But then again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Tarantino doesn’t romanticised the Wild West.
The Hateful Eight is one of Tarantino’s best films.. There’s no question about that. For a simple premise and multi-layered characters, Tarantino’s expert style and execution makes his eighth film an enjoyable experience.