Quentin Tarantino's films continue to look more and more like the films
that inspired him. His last film, "Django Unchained," brought the
spaghetti western to the deep south. "The Hateful Eight" is a straight
up western, albeit set in Wyoming during a blizzard with the
legendary Ennio Morricone behind the score.
"The Hateful Eight" is a melting pot of all things Tarantino. The tactics that have long drawn praise are in full array, as are those that have long drawn some criticism. So in that respect, Tarantino's biggest fans will leave this very long film with smiles on their faces. Everyone else it's not so simple.
As someone who has both loved and been turned off by Tarantino, I was skeptical yet open-minded about his eighth feature film. Turns out the Western genre really does suit his pulpy style better than the backdrops of some of his other perhaps more experimental films. Somehow the Western frontier is one of few settings where Tarantino's rules can be argued to make any sense.
The first couple acts of "Hateful Eight" take place in a stage coach as John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prized bounty, alleged murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), travel toward the town of Red Rock (where the bounty is to be paid, and Daisy hung) with a blizzard nipping at their heels. On the way they pick up a couple stranded strangers: fellow bounty hunter and former Union soldier Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), son of an infamous southern marauder who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. Despite having good reason not to trust either of them, Ruth lets them tag along to Minnie's Haberdashery, where they'll wait out the storm and the distrust only escalates.
At the haberdashery are Bob (Demian Bichir), professional hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), old Confederate General Sandy Smithers and cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen). Soon enough it becomes clear that one or more of these men is in not who they say they are and are likely fixing to foil Ruth's plan.
There's a strong thriller/mystery element to "Hateful Eight" that we haven't gotten from Tarantino in a long time. There are a couple unexpected, non-linear plot devices that add a greater layer of satisfaction to the way everything plays out beyond Tarantino's typical promise and delivery of carnage. The truth of what really happened and what everyone is really after hangs over the film from start to finish in a quite masterful way.
Surprisingly, there are a lot of similarities between "Hateful Eight" and Tarantino's first feature, "Reservoir Dogs." There's a large but tight ensemble cast (including Roth and Madsen), false identities, a confined setting and sadistic violence. "Eight" is just flashier, though much of that can be attributed to budget and the fact that Tarantino can do whatever he wants given his success since 1992.
But in terms of being brutal and uncomfortable, that's where the comparisons end. Taking place post-Civil War, "Hateful Eight" features abundant racial vulgarities and assault against women (Ruth keeps Daisy in line by regularly smashing her face in). Between "Django" and "Eight," Tarantino has easily surpassed any other filmmakers' use of the n- word in two films (or the use of that word in any two other films ever made, probably). He continues to become more and more provocative and debatably without any clear artistic justification except to rattle the viewer.
Let's steer clear of that argument for now, however, and focus on how "Hateful Eight" does seem to offer some other cogent thoughts. Whereas Tarantino mostly includes violence for the sake of violence in his films, his script offers some more deeper thoughts on justice than usual. Encapsulated quite well in a little speech given by Roth's Oswaldo about the difference between the law's justice and frontier justice, Tarantino points our attention to the different ways bad people get what they deserve, which puts a bit of a thematic framework around the film's proceedings and dare I say it provokes some thought.
That's more than you'd expect from a film that from the onset clearly endeavors to kill off almost its entire cast over the course of three hours. Maybe the Morricone score dupes us into thinking what's on screen is more powerful and meaningful than it really is, or maybe Tarantino has struck up a little more genius than we thought a pulp Western could deliver.
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