“…a fantastic throwback to classic westerns…”
Last night my local theatre, Apollo Cinema, hosted a mini Tarantino marathon with back to back viewings of Tarantino’s newest film, The Hateful Eight, and the Tarantino classic, Pulp Fiction. This review is specifically going to be about The Hateful Eight, so if you want to read my Pulp Fiction review you can click here. Now I was lucky enough to see the 70mm roadshow cut of The Hateful Eight back in December, so this is my second time viewing the film. For those who don’t know, The Hateful Eight is a western about a bounty hunter who is transporting his bounty when a snow storm traps him inside of a cabin with six other people. What results is a wonderful whodunit as the bounty hunter has to figure out who, if anyone, is working to free his bounty. The film stars Kurt Russell as the aforementioned bounty hunter, John ‘the Hangman’ Ruth, and his bounty, Daisy Domergue, is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. The movie also stars Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, and Demián Bichir.
The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s second foray into the western genre (I’m talking about films literally set in the old west, not films that are thematically westerns) and in my opinion, his best. His previous film, Django Unchained, didn’t really do it for me when I first saw it (though I do owe it a re-watch as it has been so long), but I instantly fell in love with The Hateful Eight. One thing that sets the films apart in my opinion is the level of character interaction. While Django had some great performances, it seemed more, for lack of a better term, superficial than Tarantino’s previous works. By that I mean the characters didn’t really get a chance to be themselves in conversation before going off to the next gun fight (I’m going to again point out that it has been years since I have seen Django so my current opinions may not reflect the way that I feel after I watch it again).In The Hateful Eight, there is nothing but exploring characters through conversation. Of course this is because the film takes place in mainly one room, so it really plays more like a stage production then a film. That’s not a bad thing, I feel that it was a great direction for Tarantino to go. I personally love the dialogue that Tarantino writes, so to have him release a movie that rests solely on dialogue is a-okay with me. One problem, however, that I did have with the writing was Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Major Marquis Warren. Marquis plays like a stereotypical Samuel L. Jackson character. You know the type, angry black guy who often goes off on rants. I’m not saying that I don’t like this character, it’s just that it seems so safe to have Samuel L. Jackson essentially play Samuel L. Jackson. I know that he has more range than that, hell, even in Django he played a different type of character and it was great. I’m not really sure if this is the fault of Samuel L. Jackson who maybe just chose not to flex his acting muscles, or the fault of Tarantino who may have just gotten used to writing for Samuel L. Jackson, so much so that he makes his parts specifically for Samuel L. Jackson and that is why they are so similar. A strong point of the movie was that it was funny as hell. I found myself doubled over with laughter more than once, and I had already seen the movie. After I had originally seen the movie, I remember thinking that the two halves of the film were very different. The amount of violence in the second half initially seemed out of place to me, but after seeing the film for the second time I realized that, although gratuitous, the violence does mesh well with the rest of the story.
For those of you that didn’t see the Roadshow cut of the movie, you aren’t missing a whole lot. Though it was great seeing the movie in glorious 70mm film, there wasn’t a whole lot that was cut out of the film for the wide release, save for a few more beautiful shots of the landscape. But there was an intermission halfway through the movie. After the intermission, which was fifteen minutes, the movie comes back on and there was none other than Quentin Tarantino himself narrating what had transpired in the film while we were all getting popcorn and relieving ourselves in the bathroom. I thought this was a great touch, and a really fun experience. But I also only thought it was in the Roadshow cut of the film, where there was an intermission. I was wrong. So if you go to see the movie at any movie theatre or, I’m sure, on the blu ray when it gets released, you will have Tarantino start narrating the film halfway through even though no time has passed since the last scene. This is disappointing to me. I realize it is more work to make a separate cut of the film, but I thought if anybody would do it, it would be Tarantino. Instead we get a narration halfway through the film that comes out of absolutely fucking nowhere and feels sorely out of place. Its funny, because even with the footage that is in the film, they could have cut the narration and it still would have made sense. It just feels amateur to me to have the director come on halfway through his movie and explain to the audience what is happening. Like I said, I enjoyed it when it was part of the Roadshow (when there was an actual reason to have it) but in the regular film it just feels lazy and pandering.
The Hateful Eight has a star studded cast, as I pointed out in my first paragraph, and they all do a fantastic job. Kurt Russell is phenomenal as John Ruth, Jennifer Jason Leigh does a fantastic job as Daisy Domergue, and both Walton Goggins and Demián Bichir had me almost pissing my pants with laughter. And all of the technical aspects of the film were flawlessly executed as well. There were many times where I was absolutely transfixed with the camera work, like the conversation between a few characters by the stove where the camera rotated around them as they spoke. The use of focus was also great, during the scene where Daisy is playing the guitar the use of rack focusing to fixate on characters in the background was beautiful. There is also the times when only important part of the screen were in focus. For example, there would be a character on the left side of the screen in the foreground who was in focus, and a character on the right side of the screen in the background who was also in focus, but everything else in the shot was out of focus. I’m not completely sure how they achieved this effect, but it was beautiful. The camera work also did a fantastic job of making the cabin seem larger than it was. I’m not sure if it was the wide angle of the 70mm that achieved that feel or other techniques, but whatever it was, it was impressive. The set and costume design of this movie is also amazing. The varying layers of clothing that each character was wearing I felt almost helped hide their motives, which was very interesting. The effects in this movie were also great. The blood that would follow a gunshot actually felt like it had ‘weight’ to it like really blood would. I’m not sure if they used squibs or something else, but whatever it was it looked great. Greg Nicotero once again does amazing special effects work (if only he would bring more of that to The Walking Dead). And finally I have to talk about the score of the film. Tarantino always has fantastic music in his movies, so when I saw that he got legendary composer Ennio Morricone to score this movie, I was so excited I couldn’t sit still. And you know, I also kind of feel that the score is what made The Hateful Eight a better western for me than Django Unchained. Because what is a western without the music of Ennio Morricone. Seriously, the score for The Hateful Eight is absolutely breathtaking and I think everyone should hear it, especially in a theatre with beautiful surround sound.
All in all I think The Hateful Eight is a great movie. It is a fantastic throwback to classic westerns and a great take on a whodunit with amazing camerawork, acting, effects, story, and beautiful score to top it off like a bright red cherry on top of an already delicious sundae.
I give The Hateful Eight a B (4/5)
What follows are some more specific thoughts I had on the movie, mainly relating to the story. There will be spoilers in this portion of the review. You have been warned.
One problem I had with the story of The Hateful Eight was that the character of Jody Domingray, portrayed by Channing Tatum, was only on screen for what seemed like the blink of an eye. I really would have liked to see more of this character, but even in the scene he is in (when they first arrive at Minnie’s), it seems like his gang members who we have already been introduced to get most of the screen time. He did have a hilarious exchange with Minnie about speaking French, and then a very intimidating conversation with General Smithers, but then he is gone. AND WHY THE FUCK DID HE ONLY FIRE ONE SHOT?! That really pissed me off about the fucking movie. He has a fucking prime spot to be shooting from, both of the men he want to kill are essentially lying flat on the floor making them bigger targets, and he has two fucking pistols. That is at least 12 shots which is more than enough to kill two guys who are essentially sitting ducks. And it’s not like he needed to conserve ammo. Him and his band of merry men hid so many guns in that fucking place they could have weaponized a small army. But instead of shooting these dudes, he allows Marquis to get his ass up, get to the bed and get comfortable, and fucking Mannix starts hobbling around using a chair as a walker. They posed no threat to Jody, but Jody didn’t kill them. Instead he waited for them to get situated, politely surrendered, and then GOT HIS FUCKING HEAD BLOWN OFF! This was infuriating to watch a supposed gang leader with a fifty thousand dollar bounty on his head, and who is feared by everyone, do what is probably the bitchiest thing in a movie by cowering in a basement.
Another thing I wanted to talk about was the relationship between the characters and Daisy. Specifically the relationship between John Ruth and Daisy. This isn’t a problem with the movie, it’s just an observation. John Ruth in the beginning of the movie is seen brutally beating Daisy. This is understandable (if a little uncomfortable to watch) because he is transporting her as a prisoner, and from what we know about her, she is not a nice woman. But then later on in the movie, specifically the dinner scene, we see John Ruth treat Daisy in a very different light. While collecting the food John Ruth Politely asks Daisy to grab some spoons, to which she politely agrees, and he even carries her dish of stew for her. This seems wildly out of place for the man who, not a few hours ago, fucking pistol whipped her and threatened to knock her teeth out. That’s not even the weirdest part. During dinner, John Ruth looks at Daisy and wipes away some food she has on her cheek. This is fucking weird to see, it’s like something you would expect a married couple to do, or like a father would to his daughter. That is when I started thinking. Is John Ruth projecting the life he wishes he has onto Daisy, treating her like he would a woman he is in love with. But then I thought, since there is not other indication that this is the case (and like I said before, he beats her pretty badly), that it must not be true. Then I started thinking that it was just a testament to how women were treated in the time. Men would look at women as something that they needed to protect, and even though John Ruth said that Daisy wasn’t a woman (because she was so evil) his instincts to protect and groom kicked in. Again, I have no idea if this was intended, the scene just stuck out to me. Rest assured that I am completely talking out of my ass, although it would be cool to get some clarification from Tarantino at some point. Maybe if there is a director’s commentary on the blu ray.