Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Demian Bechir, Channing Tatum
Nothing looks like a Tarantino. Be it a mafia film (Reservoir Dogs), slavery revenge story (Django Unchained), or WWII Nazi-killer flick (Inglorious Basterds), he always has a signature style. The Hateful Eight – Tarantino’s eighth film and a gory western shootout – has all the exact elements, but it also has some nagging flaws.
Anyone who goes to a Tarantino expects drawn-out, simmering scenes that erupt in gratuitous, bloody violence. In between, Tarantino betrays the period of his tale with anachronous songs and titles. Often, he even screws with chronology, telling parts of his story out of order. He seems bent on taking his time, and yet making sure that everything is enjoyable as possible.
The biggest problem here is that taking your time and pleasing an audience can often be at cross-purposes. Usually it takes strong producers – and the Weinstein brothers now give Tarantino full control – to lasso such a director in. This plot is good for 100 minutes; unfortunately, this is well over twice that long.
In post-Civil War Wyoming, Russell and Jackson are bounty hunters. Russell is “The Hangman,” well known for bringing in his prey alive so they can face the noose. He has a violent woman, Daisy Domergue (Leigh), with $10,000 on her head. Jackson is Major Marquis Warren, an ex-Union soldier. He has three corpses – all white, he likes killing white men, especially racists – worth $8000. The problem is that there is a nasty blizzard on the way, and Jackson’s horse is dead. So, he has to beg The Hangman to let him and his corpses share their stagecoach with Domergue.
It’s a good thing The Hangman and Warren know each other. You cannot trust the people you don’t know out here in the Wild West.
So, when this ragtag crew rolls up to an isolated outpost to stay, they are frustrated to find the owner, Minnie, and her husband gone. Instead they discover lots of other strange men, including a taciturn cowboy (Madsen), an English fop (Roth), and an old Civil War general (Dern).
This isn’t going to end well, but it takes a long time to hit bottom.
Much of this is like theater. Tarantino is brilliant at building up the tension in long, talky scenes, and he’s created dumb but broad, enjoyable characters. He also seems to revel in situations where his characters can repeatedly sling about the n-word (another place where he really needs some restraint). There are more than eight characters here – a weird anachronism – but they’re all pretty hateful, memorable but loathsome.
The mystery here becomes which ones are there to see Daisy brought to justice, and which ones are there to free her and kill everyone else. They have a blizzard keeping them trapped until they figure it out.
This is 3 hours and 15 minutes of comedic pondering, replete with a score by 87-year-old Ennio Morricone (Inglorious Basterds, Once Upon a Time in America, The Untouchables) whose work here deserves the honorary Oscar he got in 2007. His music is the only reason for an overture and 12-minute intermission; otherwise, they’re just two more of Tarantino’s pointless, overlong indulgences.
The holes of The Hateful Eight show up around 90 minutes, just short of the halfway mark – and not just the holes shot into bodies. If Jackson has been to Minnie’s Haberdashery so many times, he’d know the layout of the building so much better. When it’d be easier to kill everyone and sort out the truth afterwards, people instead spend a lot of time talking to each other. The end (no spoilers) reveals that Tarantino purposefully misled the audience, a sore trick for any filmmaker to pull.
I admit I was entertained by watching much of it, even though examination during and after the film showed the problems. In the interest of full disclosure – honestly being something the film itself doesn’t believe in – I almost always feel this way about Tarantinos. He makes interesting choices, which I applaud. He’s too good for the mistakes and missteps, the indulgences and anachronisms. To quote a Western analogy, he just needs someone to pull up on the reins. Because, apparently, Tarantino just cannot restrain himself.