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Hating Tarantino

The Weinstein Company
 167 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino 
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh
The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino loves to talk, or, more specifically, he loves to have the characters in his movies talk. In his latest, The Hateful Eight, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, and a host of other Tarantino regulars and talented newcomers to his ensemble spend nearly three hours gabbing and telling tales, that is, when they aren’t trying to kill each other in rather gruesome fashion.


Tarantino returns to the Western genre that formed the backdrop for his last film, Django Unchained, but slightly updates the time frame to the 1870’s. While Django was an homage to the spaghetti Western, Hateful Eight pays tribute to another prominent Western archtype, the TV shows of the 1950’s and 60’s. In fact, numerous viewers and critics have already noted that the plot of Hateful Eight borrows heavily from an episode of Nick Adams’ vintage series, The Rebel. Of course, television shows of that era didn’t have the nearly nonstop profanity, grisly violence, and racial and sexist slurs that inhabit the script of Hateful Eight.


Tarantino’s movie does share one attribute with the old-time TV shows. Most of the movie takes place in a single set, a stagecoach stop in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming, where a group of travelers are stranded by a fierce blizzard. One last stage carrying four passengers arrives at the stop shortly before it’s snowed it. Two of these passengers are bounty hunters, John Ruth (Russell), who is bringing in to the town of Red Rock a wanted murderer, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and Marquis Warren (Jackson), who is bringing in three corpses of wanted fugitives. The fourth passenger is the town’s new sheriff, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). During the ride to the stop, Ruth and Warren, professional acquaintances, form a temporary alliance to protect each other’s cargo from rival bounty jumpers.


When they arrive at the stop, oddly named Minnie’s Haberdashery, they find Bob, the bartender (Damian Bichir), and three passengers from an earlier stage, Oswaldo Mowbray (Tim Roth), the traveling hangman who will execute Daisy, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a taciturn cowboy, and a former Confederate Army general, Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). Anyone familiar with Quentin Tarantino, or with movies in general, will quickly realize that these individuals are about as untrustworthy a crowd as possible, and, sure enough, Ruth soon suspects that one or more of them are out to rescue Daisy.


If you look solely at the plot of Hateful Eight, absent the numerous tales and anecdotes the characters spin, Tarantino has written a fairly clever mystery. For a good part of the movie, the bounty hunters interrogate their fellow guests, made deductions, and finally figure out just who is trying to help Daisy. Of course, this detecting doesn’t all pass without incident. There’s a gruesome and rather surprising murder that changes the film’s dynamic considerably. Then, later, Tarantino goes back several hours in an extended flashback that explains pretty much the entire story to the audience, albeit not to those still trying to solve the murder. It’s a tricky storyline that Agatha Christie would have approved of, and, indeed Hateful Eight bears some similarities to various Christie works.


Of course, most of those in the audience are not in the mood for an Agatha Christie parlor mystery, and Tarantino does not disappoint them. From the very first scene, in which Ruth and Warren meet on the stagecoach and Warren explains how Ruth acquired his nickname, “The Hangman,” Tarantino just lets the dialogue flow. He’s aided immensely by a cast that knows how to spin a tale, including two of his favorites, Jackson and Russell. Two newcomers to the Tarantino repertory ensemble, Bruce Dern and Walton Goggins, also have a lot of experience at spinning tales. Dern has played gabby villains for decades, and Goggins spent the last six years reciting similar clever dialogue on the television series, Justified.


Tarantino is, of course, an acquired taste, and Hateful Eight is his longest film yet, clocking in at 167 minutes (and a whopping 182 in the road show version with intermission). It also covers the shortest time frame, only about 24 hours total. So, some people are going to feel the movie drags. However, there’s a method to Tarantino’s leisurely pace. Long, drawn out conversations build the suspense for the brief bouts of extremely violent, and often grisly, action. The violence here, although there are relatively few total deaths in the movie, is quite graphic.


The other problem the movie has is its rather casual racism and sexism. As with Django Unchained, race is a major issue in the movie. Smithers and Mannix were Confederate soldiers, and Warren was in the Union Army, and a major plot point in the movie involves the relationship between Warren and Smithers’ son. Tarantino has almost every character in the film dishing out virtually nonstop racial slurs (the N-word is probably used 100 times in the movie), almost all of which seem to be gratuitous.


Along with the racism in Hateful Eight, Tarantino dishes out an unhealthy amount of sexist violence, nearly all directed at Daisy, as well. The various male characters in the movie slap Daisy around repeatedly and often quite viciously. The movie never makes clear the nature of her crime and whether it would justify this treatment. As with the racist remarks, Tarantino appears to have added this brutality simply because he could.


Technically, however, Hateful Eight is an excellent movie. Tarantino shot the movie in 70mm, a process that hasn’t been used in fifty years and results in an extremely wide screen. At first glance, this appears an unusual choice, since most of the film takes place either inside a crowded stagecoach or in the station, a structure that, in real life, would probably have been quite cramped and crowded as well. However, as photographed by Robert Richardson, the room appears enormous, giving the characters plenty of room to gather in two’s and three’s to engage in some plotting. The process also allows Tarantino more room to frame his set pieces, to the extent that they wind up being rather elaborate and suspenseful.


Most people’s opinion of The Hateful Eight will depend largely on their impression of Quentin Tarantino in general. This is not his best work; the crudeness and brutality that are present in all his movies seem especially noticeable here. Those offended by the language, violence, or sexism may well savage the film. But it’s a good story, told by some great talents, and it even features what might be the last epic score from the legendary Ennio Morricone. Under these circumstances, it would be actually be somewhat hateful to despise The Hateful Eight.   

Read other reviews of The Hateful Eight:


The Hateful Eight (2015) on IMDb