In the first scene of Kill Bill Vol. 1, Bill says “You know, Kiddo, I’d like to believe that you’re aware enough even now to know that there’s nothing sadistic in my actions. Well, maybe towards those other… jokers, but not you. No Kiddo, at this moment, this is me at my most…
Quentin might as well be saying the same thing to the audience of The Hateful Eight. He’s always made violent exploitation-esque films, but this one is different. This monster of a film has a mind of its own and it’s pissed off. Shot in glorious 70MM, Tarantino has created his most political, violent, and potent study of humanity.
Set sometime after the civil war, Kurt Russell’s John “The Hangman” Ruth is off to Red Rock to hang Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and get the $10,000 reward. Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren saddles up with two of them and they head for Minnie’s Haberdashery to escape a blizzard.
Tarantino likely watched The Thing so many times that he had to try his hand at making his version of The Thing. He has succeeded. Take out the alien and fill in Tarantino’s monstrous pop culture/film knowledge, which takes the place of the otherworldly alien being, manipulating everything here from character to structure to performance to music. From the first haunting frame and Ennio Morricone’s ominous, instantly iconic theme, you can feel the impending bloodshed a la Ten Little Indians, while also getting the sense that this is different from anything Tarantino’s done. Rather than his usual boisterous exuberance, there’s a calming sense of doom.
Tarantino lets you know early on that none of these characters are good people. In fact, they’re all awful people. The iconic performers he’s casted alongside the trio I mentioned are Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and a few other familiar faces. The blizzard forces all of them to be locked in Minnie’s haberdashery, a log cabin fortress, and I’m sure you can guess what happens when 8 hateful people are locked in a room together. Cue the carnage!
Robert Richardson’s photography is a postcard from the rockies super sized into a billboard of exacting detail. I urge you, no demand, you see this in 70MM and feast your eyes on what a film experience really is. In terms of blocking and camera movement, Tarantino has never been more precise. The intricacies of his direction are surgical and at maximum Tarantinian force.
His writing is also at maximum Tarantinian force, and yes, that means Quentin indulges and his characters never shut the fuck up, but the chatter here is a means of survival exploring hierarchies of race relations deeply burrowed into these character’s pasts. The more they talk, the more we lean in and listen. Django Unchained suffered, for me, because its characters all sounded like the same person: Quentin, himself. Hateful’s dialogue has more going on underneath, and the performers make the characters feel real, while playing up a certain amount of theatricality.
Editor Sally Menke is still a little missed, although not as much as in Django Unchained. Rhythmically there’s a few sections that are stunted, and the flow never quite glides like Kill Bill or Basterds. But in a chamber piece, pacing is not used like in most other films, and Tarantino has his eyes set for bigger ambitions told through the tiniest of details.
The smallest of affectations in performance and camera movement push it into masterpiece territory. It’s the Inglourious Basterds bar scene stretched to feature length; a thriller in which the thrills come from dialogue and stares; a bottle episode in the guise of a mystery with the mood of a cynical horror film. There’s never been anything like it, but you already know that; this is a Tarantino film.
With Morricone’s operatic theme you feel like you’re watching an omnipresent being peer down on humanities quarrels—just waiting for bloodshed. Tarantino is that omnipresent god. He even goes as far as narrating sequences of the film. You can’t really “like” any of these people, but through pages and pages — and I mean PAGES AND PAGES — of confrontational dialogue we’re forced to choose sides and ideologies in conflicts. Prejudices slap us back in the face and as we turn around another is waiting.
Even moreso than Basterds, he’s reached Sam Peckinpah (Straw Dogs, The Wild Bunch) levels of controversial morality with film violence and language. Set mostly in a single room, we’re watching a mini civil war of dialogue meant to push provoke ALL the buttons. Stereotypes and old grudges mutate like Carpenter’s monster. For that reason, I guarantee this will be his most divisive film, and also the one that will gain the most appreciation over time.
The characters slowly unveil their true sides to each other and our allegiance to them blurs. Tarantino moves them each across a chess board of confrontation until one takes down another. He’s always had characters that have guises and get into character. Well, these 8 put on a theater show and rarely break character until they need to shoot.
He’s onto something profound by exploring the lies we tell and how they’ve been rooted in American history. The 70MM presentation adds thematic weight because these characters feel like giant historical figures representing radical facets of post civil war America that disturbingly correspond to our modern world. This story is about the sin of America.
The characters are the seeds of America after the civil war, which have traveled through history and now hide in our modern times. I would not be surprised if this film is called “prescient” in 5 years. He’s exploring the line that divides those who act unjustly from those who aim to restore justice, and questions if either is good or bad. He goes even further to delve into the idea that one’s appearance, beliefs, and ideas they’ve been indoctrinated into do not necessarily make them bad or good.
By letting go of some of his past crutches he has created his most formally impressive film to date. Rich with snowy texture and emboldened by puddles of blood, Tarantino’s bottle episode structure a la Reservoir Dogs, calmly sets narrative land-mines underneath your nose. They EXPLODE in the second half leaving blood, guts, and cinema all over the 70MM frame and in the audience’s face. Imagine Straw Dogs morality, The Thing’s paranoia, and Evil Dead‘s violence re-purposed inside a Peckinpah western with a nihilistic sense of humor.
The control and boundary pushing of himself is what tips this film into masterpiece territory and a film that stands just behind Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds. Again, it’s only held back by dialogue, a plot contrivance, and a third act curveball that seems like territory he’s covered better before. The Hateful Eight finds Tarantino wrestling with the darkest and most mature content he’s ever aimed at. It’s an ungainly beast that manages to work in spite of its imperfections. The chapter structure and close knit setting allow Tarantino to simultaneously embrace his obsessions while having to fine tune them with a precision that he’s never had before. As the final shot flickers on the frame you can feel him pulling the trigger and blasting his target.
But of course, the actors are the lynch pins of the piece. Almost everyone has multiple page monologues that they rattle off effortlessly. How to even choose an MVP? I suppose I’d say Jennifer Jason Leigh. Like, how? She’s amazing.
Here’s a behemoth of a film from a master director in the grandest format of the medium. All star actors. Magnificent costumes, photography, lighting, art direction, makeup, score. It’s got it all. Going to the movies doesn’t get better than this (Maybe 70MM Imax). Forget The Force Awakens. A 70MM roadshow is THE FILM EXPERIENCE. The Hateful Eight finds Tarantino at his most novelistic, angry, and profound as he tackles ideas in the form of a bloody biblical and mythic fable.
A nihilistic tale that shows us a 70MM mirror of modern America that we’re forced to stare at and reconcile with. Stylistically powerful but with a thematic presence and soulfulness that the famed auteur has not tapped into since Jackie Brown‘s ending.
Grade: A a genre/pop culture filled bookcase curated by the ghost of Agatha Christie.