HatefulDirector: Quentin Tarantino

Screenwriter: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, and Bruce Dern

In my 2012 review of Django Unchained, I mentioned the fact that Quentin Tarantino has said publicly that he wants to retire after his tenth film.  My original thought was that the Kill Bill films were two of those ten, making Django his eighth film.  Fortunately for us, his actual eighth entry (which assumes the Kill Bill volumes as a single film) is appropriately titled The Hateful Eight, and while it’s no Django, it will ultimately please the passionate director’s fans.

The Hateful Eight actually almost didn’t happen.  Back in early 2014, a draft of the script leaked causing Tarantino to nearly cancel the production altogether.  Eventually cooler heads prevailed and after public condemnations, a lawsuit or two, and some rewrites, the director got to work on the film that would become the longest film of his career, both in running time and aspect ratio!

Like Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight is also a western.  Set in the post-Civil War frontier in the frigid mountains of Wyoming, The Hateful Eight unravels like a novel told through chapters and even occasionally narrated by the director himself.  When a stagecoach carrying a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) happen upon an ex-Union officer turned bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and a local town sheriff (Walton Goggins) stranded in a brutal winter storm, the four of them trek on to a halfway house known as Minnie’s Haberdashery, to weather out the storm only to find it currently inhabited by another group of disreputable characters: A hangman (Tim Roth), a cowboy (Michael Madsen), a Southern general (Bruce Dern), and Bob (Demián Bichir) who runs Minnie’s in the owner’s absence.  As the film moves along, we learn more and more about these characters and are forced to ponder each and every one of their true motives. Like Clue meets John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Hateful Eight is a veritable powder keg of tension as the group of deviants are all trapped together in a shelter, and like the title suggests, they’re all full of hate.

The Hateful Eight is a western first and a story second.  Unlike Django Unchained, which mixed genres to deliver an outstanding story, this film felt very tied down by its attention to genre trappings.  The story is minimal but not in the way that Kill Bill’s story was minimal (think My Dinner with Andre with six shooters).   Like Kill Bill, the cast is numerous, but the dialogue, as is the case with most Tarantino films, is the star of this film.  The only problem is that for the first time in my history as a fan, I wanted some of these characters to shut up once in a while and think or feel.  These characters are so verbose and so loquacious that some of them began to feel cliché, especially by the 2 ½ hour mark.

But then there’s the western angle.  Shot in 70 mm, this is a wonderfully staged western with some interesting wordplay, plot twists, and camera work, and the Ennio Morricone score gives the film that last dollop of authenticity.  Even though the overall impact of the film is slightly diminished by the effusive dialogue, there is a message under all of the racist rants and childish cowboy insults.  Tarantino does his thing delivering humor, tension, and violence all wrapped up in a shiny homage to cinematic and cultural history.  There are some truly excellent observations about humanity, love, family, trust, racism, and politics threaded through this film, and when it was over I was satisfied – but not blown away.

The Hateful Eight delivers the Tarantino product we all expect, love, and enjoy.  There is no ignoring the auteur’s evolution and development as a screenwriter and director.  Some bits of The Hateful Eight are his best work yet, but overall the film doesn’t quite hit the bulls-eye. B

The Hateful Eight is rated R and has a running time of 3 hours and 7 minutes.