Yes, folks…as to be more or less expected at this point, Quentin Tarantino has done it again! I, like SO many film geeks out there, love Tarantino’s work, going back to his still outstanding feature film debut, 1992’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’. He has a unique understanding of film and its place in pop culture, and uses that knowledge to tell interestingly sordid tales involving heady, amusing dialogue, interesting characters, and bouts of gruesome violence (sometimes for the amusement, sometimes for the horror). Even when one of his titles stumbles (looking at YOU, ‘Death Proof’), there’s still SOMETHING amazing or unique going on at just about every turn. Despite being a fan, I can also admit that, at times, Tarantino does come off like he’s jerking himself off with his skills with the Written Word. Many of his best scenes are character / dialogue heavy, but he does know how to make them work (most of the time) within his often non-linear story structures. THIS particular flick had an interesting path on its way to fruition. The story goes that Tarantino had this one all set to go as his next project after the kick-ass ‘Django Unchained’ (2012). The script was completed and he began testing the waters, where his actors were concerned. Somewhere along the way, SOMEONE (Bruce Dern and Michael Madsen were among the chief suspects, well…their agents anyway) leaked the script and soon the entire work was floating around out on the InterWebz. Tarantino was understandably pissed, and in what some people saw as a temper tantrum, he pulled it from pre-production and stated that we would now be seeing it emerge as a novel, due to the unfair leak of his intellectual property. As people were soaking THAT idea in, he then went and hosted a live reading of the script with some of his cast of choice…which would’ve been kick-ass to see. This performance apparently went so well that it reinvigorated Tarantino’s resolve to make the script a cinematic reality and pre-production fired back up. He enlisted the aid of the Panavision 70mm film format, which is a HUGE film size that, coupled with the right lenses, gives up incredibly wide and rich shots, especially where landscape or ensemble compositions are concerned. While I think that the somewhat pretentious expectation of select theatres upgrading / downgrading to actual working 70mm projectors (huge motherfuckers, BTW), in order to show just this one title was a little much, I was curious to see what the end result may end up being. Having now seen the flick, I can say that THAT interesting experiment DID add to the experience.
‘The Hateful Eight’ takes place in the snow-blown mountains and icy forests of post-Civil War Wyoming. In short order, we meet a bounty hunter, ‘Major Marquis Warren’ (Samuel L. Jackson) as he struggles to get to the town of Red Rock, to claim the bounty on 3 corpses in his possession, ahead of a vicious blizzard. Along the snowy trail comes a stage coach carrying fellow bounty hunter ‘John THE HANGMAN Ruth’ (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner ‘Daisy Domergue’ (Jennifer Jason Leigh), also headed for Red Rock…and a date with the gallows. After some tough negotiating, ‘Warren’ hitches a lift with the pair to a remote outpost called ‘Minnies Haberdashery’, where they meet a motley crew of rough and shadowy characters (including past Tarantino favorites like Tim Roth (‘Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), Michael Madsen (‘Reservoir Dogs’, ‘Kill Bill’) and Bruce Dern (‘Django Unchained’))…and a hefty dose of lethal intrigue.
As Quentin Tarantino flicks go, this may be his most linear (although ‘Death Proof’ is also a contender). Even the most casual fan is familiar with his tendency to throw traditional narrative structure out the window and toss scenes around in an intriguing and unique order. Here…with the exception of an extended (and crucial) flashback scene, the story is straight forward, which is a nice change. In no way did I find this to be a detriment to the movie as a whole. If there was ANYTHING negative I could say at this point, it would be about the length. As with most of QT’s movies, it is a little long-winded and maybe could’ve used a bit of a tightening. That being said, that’s not enough for me to start criticizing in depth, as even the most extended of dialogue scenes are ALMOST always fascinating in his care.
As with all QT flicks, the cast is impeccable. Kurt Russell (‘Big Trouble in Little China’) is always a treat and here he’s a growly, suspicious son of a bitch who commands every room he enters. Samuel L. Jackson (‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’) wrapped himself around his Civil War survivor character and gave Russell a serious run for his money when it came to stealing the heavier scenes. I’ve always liked Jennifer Jason Leigh, going back to her turn as ‘Nash’ in the underrated 1987 serial killer thriller ‘The Hitcher’, and it was great (and repulsive) to see her inhabit such a hard-edged bitch of a character. Now some people will take exception to some of her treatment by her male co-stars (she spends most of the flick a bloody mess), but every time she opened her vile mouth, it seemed like she had it coming, within the world existing on-screen. Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern all help add memorable layers to the tension that brews within the cold and suspicious setting. We also get Channing Tatum (’21 Jump Street’) turning up in an effective, extended cameo and he fits well into QT’s cinematic universe. So no complaints on the casting, that’s for sure.
Speaking of characters, it must be said that the setting alone acts as a character unto itself. The wide-open vistas of snowy mountains, rivers and forests are nicely contrasted by the claustrophobia of the blizzard-ravaged haberdashery and it’s meagre collection of out-buildings. QT chose to build the interiors on a large, refrigerated set and seeing the actual breath (no CG bullshit here) added to the wildness and believability of the environment.
Of course, being a Quentin Tarantino movie, special mention must be given to his choice of music. Ordinarily, QT likes scattering obscure tunes from a bygone era throughout his flicks, and they almost always work to perfection. While there is some of that present, having some original music composed by classic film score composer Ennio Morricone, along with unused music from one of my favorite films EVER, John Carpenter’s 1982 version of ‘The Thing’ (which also played a big part as an influence for this flick…which is sweet) was VERY cool. It may be a soundtrack that I’ll have to add to my collection eventually.
One of the main complaints I’ve heard about this one, leading up to it’s wide release is QT’s use (over use?) of the dreaded ‘N’ word. Now I hate bigotry in pretty much any form…even though sometimes I understand where it can come from. I think ‘nigger’ is SUCH an ugly word in the world’s hateful vocabulary…I had trouble typing it out just now. However, given the time period this flick is set in, and the temperaments and back-grounds of key characters, it’s inclusion seems perfectly appropriate here. In fact, I’d wager that it’s used noticeably less in ‘The Hateful Eight’ than it is in ‘Django Unchained’, and when it is used…you sit up and notice. I could do without hearing it peppered so liberally through a script, but I do find QT’s stance on the racist term interesting, especially since his step-father from a young age was African American. He’s been quoted as saying that the word, when kept all hushed up and taboo, holds an unpleasant amount of power that it can be stripped of when acknowledged as being nothing more than an out-dated word…and that’s all. Bringing it forward, in the right context, can potentially make it absurd and more to the point, meaningless. It’s like when you say a certain word over and over again, and in your mind, it reduces down to nothing more than a bunch of connected sounds on your tongue, completely devoid of meaning. It’s a solid, if somewhat misguided, justification.
Visually speaking, I really liked what QT did with the 70mm format. His shots, especially in the outdoor scenes, were fantastic and really went the distance in establishing the scope of the world the film takes place in. Do I think that actual 70 mm projectors are needed back in theatres for the showing of the wide-screen images servicing the tense little story? No, I don’t. But the pictures captured are undeniably beautiful, and keep me excited to see what Tarantino does with whatever his next title will be. This, coupled with the practicality of 2015’s ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ and the use of actual 35 mm film (as opposed to digital) on ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ has me hopeful that other filmmakers will set the clock back a few years and embrace the old-school techniques that are able to bless movies with a timeless quality that gives them serious longevity in the public consciousness. Bring on The Practical!!! CG has it’s place, but damn…’in camera’ filmmaking is where it’s at, and it needs to be successful to be embraced as a viable direction to go in for our viewing pleasure.
All in all, ‘The Hateful Eight’ is another successful Quentin Tarantino flick. It boasts a superb cast, whip-smart dialogue, gorgeous cinematography, sudden typically gruesome violence, and an intriguing story in an interesting setting. It is a little long and some of the dialogue sequences could’ve benefited from a trim, but overall I had a really good time with it. If you’re a fan of Tarantino’s filmography…you WILL get something out of this movie. You WILL be pulled in…and you may get some on ya.