The Hateful Eight (Review)

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THE HATEFUL EIGHT

THE SETUP

Well here it is guys, the highly anticipated eighth film from the extremely original and talented Quentin Tarantino. It’s been three years since the masterpiece that was “Django Unchained” and Quentin’s brand new film “The Hateful Eight” is almost at our doorsteps. This review is based upon an online screener because the film doesn’t officially hit theaters in Australia until the 21st of January. Tarantino follows a similar path to that of Django in that once again it’s a Western shot in anamorphic 70mm rather than the conventional 35. In the same vein, the unique and descriptive writer once again blends multiple genres together. The eight grounds itself in that slow burn nature most old Westerns do, all the while introducing elements of dark comedy, historical detail and a conventional who dunnit sub plot. The Hateful Eight is set in Wyoming during one of the worst blizzards in recent history. Bounty hunter, John Ruth (played by Kurt Russell) is on his way to the town of Red Rock and chained to him is his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Along the way the two end up crossing paths with Major Marquis Warren, an infamous bounty hunter (Samuel Jackson) and the supposed soon to be Sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (played by Walton Goggins). The four end up taking refuge at a haberdashery to avoid the intense weather conditions. Upon their arrival they realize they are going to be hole up with four other colorful characters that include Bob, the current caretaker of the establishment (Demian Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray, a hangman (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (played by Michael Madsen) and General Smithers (Bruce Dern). The film also stars James Parks, Zoe Bell and a surprise inclusion who shall remain unnamed.

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THE GOOD

When you combine Tarantino’s film making experience with an estimated budget of around 45 million you get a technically impressive result. The Hateful Eight opens with a fantastic beating drum and low-end bass score by composer Ennio Morricone as the camera begins to trek the snow-covered landscape of Wyoming. Speaking of which the setting for Tarantino’s latest film is gorgeous. The Civil War has not long ended and times are tough, the weather is harsh and people are looking for ways to make a quick buck, enter our main duo. There’s a nice early mixture of wide shots and close personal camera work during the tense horse carriage ride in Part 1, that’s when things start getting cozy. As usual there’s also a few of the signature aerial shots that Tarantino uses to great effect. Most of Morricone’s score sounds good and there’s a few modern folk style songs thrown in just for good measure, personally I thought the Django Unchained soundtrack was superior though and I hoped for a little more here than I got. Courtney Hoffman is behind the unique and wonderful costume designs of each of our strangers. What would a Western be without the complimentary poncho? Not only that, you can tell everyone was feeling the cold so it’s a good thing the wardrobe consisted of a lot of wool and furs and hats. Audiences expect a certain level of violence in Tarantino’s work and it often elevates the film to even greater heights, as is the case here. It doesn’t come on as strong as his previous work but it’s as effective and impressive, especially with the use of practical blood splatter and no CG.

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Quentin’s writing is always the strength of his films, he has a certain rhythm with his dialogue and he’s been doing it for over 20 years. For the most part The Hateful Eight is a tight screenplay that takes some really surprising turns. The narrative reveals important information to us all in good time and in an interesting way. Once again the same formula we all know and love is the approach in this latest venture. Separately introduced acts became a trademark of Quentin’s after “Pulp Fiction” and he’s since used them in most if not all of his films. I also like the fact that in a “man’s world”, in which almost all of his movies are set, there’s a woman somewhere at the core of the story. Think about it, if you ignore “Kill Bill” (Uma Thurman is the main character) and “Reservoir Dogs”, Mia Wallace of Pulp Fiction is pretty much Vincent Vega’s whole arc, We follow Shosanna from the beginning of IB, ultimately she is a huge part of the reason the Basterds are able to complete their mission and of course Broomhilda of Django is everyone’s end goal. Daisy Domergue is no different in The Hateful Eight. She could be deemed a secondary character but without her the film wouldn’t hold the same weight. Tarantino cleverly and subtly places strong female characters at the core of his storytelling and you’ve got to love that. Most of the comedic relief in the film works although not to the same  tune as Quentin’s other films. His last two have had some of the wittiest humor but not so much this time around. The film’s strongest element is its solid back story for just about all the key characters. The first half has plenty of exposition conveyed mostly through dialogue and you’re never really quite sure who’s being truthful about their background/motives, if anyone making for a suspenseful setup.

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It’s well-known that Tarantino likes to work with the same people and when you’ve got a cast with this level of talent, Why wouldn’t you? This is very much an ensemble piece presented like a theater production. There’s some very entertaining characters and fine performances by all. Kurt Russell was recently in the Western/Horror film (some would say horror) “Bone Tomahawk”. The shooting dates for these two films must have been close together because Kurt carries that seemingly winter-worn, rugged look into The Hateful Eight. I was one of those people who didn’t love Bone Tomahawk, I thought the performances were solid but it was too slow and didn’t deliver a big enough finale to warrant sitting through the earlier 120 minutes. In the eight Russell plays a confident, take no-nonsense bounty hunter named John Ruth, who manages to carry on a great chemistry with Leigh who plays the uncultured Daisy. Tim Roth surprised me in this film and was finally able to show audiences what he can do. There was an air about him comparable with that of Dr King Shultz from Django Unchained (played by Oscar winner Christoph Waltz), it might have been the wardrobe I’m not sure. Any who, it seems Roth had more to work with here than say his role in “Pulp Fiction”, his gleeful, proper and well to do portrayal of Oswaldo is very amusing. It should come as no surprise that if there’s a standout in The Hateful Eight it’s the ever reliable Samuel L Jackson as Major Warren. Jackson has given us some of the most entertaining and memorable performances in recent times. He often goes unnoticed compared to those in the same age bracket in Hollywood but make no mistake he is a consummate professional. With his perfectly delivered dialogue and ability to balance calm and explosive to draw out suspense, is it any wonder he commands your attention with every moment on-screen.

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THE BAD

This is the first time I thought Tarantino’s decision to shoot in Ultra Panavision 70 mm wasn’t warranted. Whether or not it was because a majority of the film is set in one location I don’t know, but the choice to do so didn’t enhance my viewing experience quite like I expected. I’ll use Django as an example simply because I think it’s his best film. It ended up such a rich looking, vibrant and colorful film that the style accompanied it perfectly. However, The Eight is all about its bleakness and gritty aesthetics much like most classic Westerns are. Other than the early external shots in Part 1 and 2, visually the film is claustrophobic because of the one setting and the extra width and color the 70mm supposed to expose doesn’t really magnify it. It’s a long film and when you’re trapped in the one location without much action, even with interesting dialogue and great characters/actors you can find yourself tuning out from time to time. I think it was Part 3 that lagged a bit (I’d have to watch again), with an unnecessary side plot involving a loose connection between Marcais and General Sandy Smithers. We get a brief flashback sequence and some graphic and redundant description surrounding Smithers son and Marcais. The plus was that those scenes aided in bringing on the first altercation, which doesn’t come until well over half way into the film but ultimately dragged out the running time. Without that extra plot point the film could have been cut by 20 or 30 minutes to help it flow quicker. Both Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained had me glued one hundred percent from intro to credits and that’s the sign of a truly brilliant film, Hateful Eight doesn’t quite get there.

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Most of the content and in-depth passages of dialogue are needed to help establish who these people are and how each of them relates to the given situation. I’m somewhat torn because I would’ve liked to have seen a couple more flashbacks to help progress the plot, as well as briefly getting to see outside those same four walls but on the other hand the final act wouldn’t have the same power it does so it’s a tough one. I think I can deal with staying inside the cabin but the run time either needed to be slightly cut or some gun play needed introducing earlier than the 100 minute mark to save things getting partially stale. The only flaw I found in the writing was early on when John tells Marcais about the bounty on Daisy, Why? Why would you do that? Desperate times call for desperate measures, the conditions are harsh you’re trying to get paid surely you’d lie, Why would you risk it all by telling someone you’ve just met. That plot point could have been revealed after arriving at the cabin rather than in the beginning. I’ll close by saying if you head into this one expecting the usual non-stop Tarantino flare you may be disappointed. Just be ready for a slow-burn approach is all I’m saying. There’s a few throw away lines and some extra details you don’t really need to know about but other than that it’s very good story telling. Ultimately this is “Reservoir Dogs” if it were a period piece grounded in the Western genre and the last act/huge finale gave me similar vibes I had at the end of the RD.

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I’ve waited a long time for this latest film from Quentin Tarantino, so I had a lot of time to build it up in my head and when you do that it’s rare it ever lives up to your expectations. It’s got all the elements we love about Tarantino’s work, a woman at the core of a man’s world, clever and informative dialogue, impressive aesthetics and a good volume of blood splatter. The performances from all the cast are great but in particular Jackson, Russell and Roth who deliver a high standard of entertainment with their representations. MVP goes to Jennifer Jason Leigh because she does cop it from all sides in this film and takes it like a trooper, well done! All that being said I do think the running time is 20-30 minutes too long and there’s a couple of sequences/sub-plots that could have been cut. It’s difficult to maintain the audience’s attention for almost three hours when you’re stuck in one location. Because of that one location the 70mm style doesn’t feel like it adds much to the equation and so I found myself falling in and out at times. As expected though Tarantino won me over with one of the best final acts in any of his films, what a hugely enjoyable finish. Hard to outdo yourself with a resume like Quentin’s so don’t be discouraged when I say that I think The Hateful Eight is missing a few pieces to the puzzle that is his best work. Saying that I still look forward to seeing this one again in cinemas on the 21st and it’s a very good film that will surely see Jackson with an Oscar nomination for best supporting Actor.

My rating for “The Hateful Eight” is 8/10

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