“Slow It Way Down…”
The Hateful Eight has everything a Quentin Tarantino fan wants. Sharp dialogue? Check. Tons of blood? Check. Samuel L. Jackson? Double check. What Tarantino doesn’t say through his strong characters, he says through his visuals. Sweeping vistas of mountainsides, deep, snowy forests, and even the claustrophobic cabin where most of the movie takes place in is filmed in a grandiose fashion, something both large, yet intimate.
From the opening acts of the film that take place largely in a stagecoach, to the conflicted archetypes of its characters, influence is found all over The Hateful Eight, which is unsurprising for a Tarantino film. From John Ford’s setups to the Sergio Leone-inspired score, the film blends familiar western themes and images, bottles them up in a cabin, and shakes vigorously until the tension explodes. All of these elements combine naturally and unfold the plot in a way that could be seen both as an homage to the genre, as well as an exploitation of its tropes.
Make no mistake, from the opening line of dialogue to the font used during the credits, this has the iconic director’s mark all over it. This time we’re taken to a post-civil war world, where a cast of suspicious characters find themselves together in a Wyoming cabin as they ride out a blizzard. Chief among them is Major Marquis Warren, a black Civil War veteran turned bounty hunter whose past actions put him at odds with Confederate sympathizers and other bigoted characters.
It’s not hard to see where Tarantino is going with this one, and he isn’t subtle about discussing issues like institutionalized racism and intertwining it with his penchant for a revenge tale. The problem is that the film is almost singularly about this issue and takes almost three hours to make its point. When you cramp your entire movie into a cabin, there’s nothing much else to do but address the biggest elephant in the room, and this limits some of the more sprawling elements his previous films are known for.
This racial tension is what winds most of the movie. Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Warren begins as a sympathetic character, but comes with his own brand of brutality that makes some of his actions questionable. Despite some great moments of clarity and betrayal that effectively make smaller points, it’s unclear by the end of the film what we’re supposed to make of the issue. It’s a Tarantino film, so you basically know how the endgame is going to be resolved, but what the larger discussion about these issues is supposed to be is anyone’s guess.
Now about that three hour run-time. This is arguably Tarantino’s slowest movie to date. The film isn’t in any rush to get where it’s going, and it takes well over an hour before any blood starts to flow. The good news is that for anyone who relishes the director’s trademark dialogue is in for a treat. Despite all the gun waving, most of the film’s conflict comes through what characters saying, what they’re not, and who’s telling the truth. This mystery element makes for some of the most fun sequences of the film, as characters monologue trying to come to conclusions and dish out their brand of justice. The tension mounts to dizzying proportions as characters circle around what they really want to say, until it all explodes into the bloody last half of the film.
Despite all of these traits, or maybe because of them, there is a sense of familiarity that surrounds Tarantino’s eighth movie. The claustrophobic setting and plot setup is quite similar to Reservoir Dogs, and Django Unchained is arguably a more expansive western that’s still fresh on everyone’s minds. The Hateful Eight is successful in delivering an experience that relies largely on talk, but sheds away some of the more fun camerawork and dynamic filmmaking that makes his other films so compelling.
Tarantino gets away with a more subdued approach to this film thanks to the great cast who is capable of delivering his dialogue with excitement and depth. Each character, from Kurt Russell as the bounty hunter John Ruth, to his captured bounty Daisy Domergue played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, leaps off the screen and makes each verbal confrontation as exciting as the shootouts. By the time words do turn to violence, the film has given the characters enough time to pick logical sides and off each other with a sudden burst of violence.
The Hateful Eight may not be Tarantino’s best work, but it works as an exercise that effectively pushes his dialogue and actor’s skills to new heights. By relying on mostly talk and set in a singular location, the film is more intimate and slower than his previous works, but no less exciting. It may fail to make a final point, despite the political nature of its subject matter, but it ultimately delivers what Quentin Tarantino fans want.
Go see it in 70mm and tell Steve what you thought on Twitter.