As one of the most anticipated films of the year, Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight promises us more smoking barrels, foul-mouthed rustlers, blood-soaked shootouts, and warm, fuzzy homages to spaghetti westerns of the past from the enigmatic director. What we get is just that, albeit in a "What more can we do to bend the genre into Reservoir Dogs/Inglorious Basterds territory?" It's a fitting-of-the-mold sort of film from Tarantino. Sure, Kurt Russell. I'll have some snakebite in my coffee.
The Hateful Eight opens in a very familiar fashion. Destitute travelers, trekking across harsh country greet us with beautiful panoramic views accompanied by long, establishing boom-out shots. You feel as if you're in for another great western adventure, the likes of Django Unchained. Yet this western outing from Tarantino is anything but the likes of Django, except for that opening sequence. It's more along the lines of a Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs movie; lots of people talking in a room.
A huge plus in this movie was the return of Ennio Morricone to score the film, who decided against returning, after how his music was handled in Django Unchained (IMDB). Thankfully, he changed his mind offering up his many talents, harkening back to the Sergio Leone days of A Fist Full of Dollars, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, etc. There's a particular scene involving a blizzard with two men making their way through it at night with Morricone's atmospheric score reaching a level of creepy which becomes almost unsettling right before the movie cuts to a different scene with no score. Pretty jarring honestly, but fun.
The titular Eight in this film are about as miserable and hateful as an audience can stand in these characters. What comes to mind for me, is the Hater's of the Year Ball in a certain Dave Chappelle skit. These folks are downright rotten and seem to be spawns of some sort of respective Hateful Eight hell. The shining beacon in this amount of treachery is none other than Kurt Russell's character, John "The Hangman" Ruth. Kurt Russell, coming grizzled and angry, hot off the film Bone Tomahawk, kicks major ass as The Hangman. He's the type of, "I came here to chew bubblegum (let's say jerky in this case) and kick some ass; and I'm all out of bubblegum (jerky)" guy. Kurt Russell is on the rise again as one of Hollywood's new Comeback Kids and his performance in Hateful is a testament to that raw talent and star power.
The comedy in this particular Tarantino flick is pretty fantastic. I've never laughed my way through one of his movies as much as I did through this one, the audience I shared the theater with, included. Much of the comedic humor in Hateful is owed to Walton Goggins' effective portrayal of a nasty, racist, wannabe sheriff. Goggins hits many beats with great delivery of his lines, inciting laughs all around. Come to think of it, all of the cast gave great moments of laughter and I suppose that's what happens when you spend a cold, miserable, blizzard night, cramped inside with crooked company.
Another little surprise I obviously won't give away is the role and handling of Channing Tatum's character in this film, so I'll leave that for you guys to see. My opinion on it, however, is that I thought he could have been utilized a little better.
With all that greatness said, I do have my gripes about this film and unfortunately, they are many and fairly large in scale.
Firstly, I am saddened to say that I felt there was a bit too much Samuel L. Jackson in this film; and when I say too much Sam Jackson, I mean too much of the "Ha, ha, motherf**er!" Sam Jackson. Now that's fine and all and has worked well in many of his movies, yet I believe he could have dialed it down quite a bit in Hateful. From the previews, trailers and prescreening information we were getting, I was expecting more of a Jules from Pulp Fiction Sam Jackson in Hateful Eight. Instead, we get Sam Jackson in a very large dose. I won't spoil anything, but there is a particular monologue Jackson's character, Major Warren gives that was possibly one of the weirdest scenes I've witnessed in a Tarantino film that honestly turned me off of the character quite a bit. This scene then proceeds to be used as a needless excuse for more bloodshed, frankly taking me out of the movie in that moment.
Speaking of disappointing characters, despite her enthusiastic and very well given performance, I was not very impressed with Jennifer Jason Leigh's Daisy Domergue come the third act of the film. Her ruthlessness and downright repulsiveness in the third act comes across as being a self-deprecating parody of the character that was present in the first and second acts. Despite this, I applaud Leigh for her performance with the character, who indeed had her shining moments.
As for the rest of the cast, they were honestly some of the most forgettable characters in a Tarantino film, save for O.B. and you'll see why. Ha. Ha. Walton Goggins' character was funny sure, and one of the highlights of the film definitely. However, Chris Mannix was not a very interesting character. Same goes for everyone else besides Russell's, Leigh's, and Jackson's respective characters. Michael Madsen played the quiet type, Tim Roth's English character was just confusing as to how he even got into that specific setting, and Bruce Dern is extremely immobile and bitter the whole movie. The magic of Tarantino's films is that his characters are enigmas in their own rights and the dialogue crackles with electricity, yet we got that this go-around with only a few of his characters.
What made Django Unchained one of my favorites from the director - if we were to compare Tarantino westerns - is that the characters showed so much intensity and diversity in each of their own ways. To my knowledge, we've never seen a western with a lead of a freed slave. Christoph Waltz knocked it out of the park as Schultz, Kerry Washington was delightful as Broomhilda, and I'm sad Leo again, did not get an Oscar or at least a nomination for his stellar performance as Calvin Candie.
The plot is problematic as well, being that it is very predictable and a bit cliché for the genre.
Lastly, I think we can all agree: Tarantino gore is dope and I mean DOPE. However, in Hateful Eight, the dope-ness of the gore was a bit too much. Let me explain in one non-spoiler example. A man is shot and killed, lays dead on the ground in a pool of blood, whereby the killer stands over him and blows his head clean off just for the sake of blowing a man's head off. There are some other absolute bloodbath moments in the movie with the same needless intentions. Am I bashing gore in a movie? Yes, but only because I don't see the point in gore if it's not relevant to the story. Example: Was there a lot of gore in Kill Bill? Absolutely. However, there is a realization that much of that film's violence dealt with razor sharp swords and a fight sequence where around 88 individuals were either killed or maimed because they were there to either kill a woman or die trying. Hateful Eight's violence almost verges on torture in some of it's violent instances; torture which is not relevant to what is going on in the scene.
Overall for me, Hateful Eight was one of, if not the most anticipated film of the year. Unfortunately, I feel a bit of disappointment. Stood up against other Tarantino films, specifically Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight feels like a weaker outing for Quentin Tarantino; one marred by excessive, pointless violence, a predictable plot, and forgettable characters. I still want to really love this film and will probably see it a second time, if only to pick up on any nuances that may improve my overall perspective of The Hateful Eight.
Let me know in the comments what you thought of the film.
- Josh Doherty