The Hateful Eight Review

Posted: January 2, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

the-hateful-eight-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

The golden age of Westerns is often defined as the 1930s through the 1950s. This was a time where Westerns were some of the most popular and profitable films being made, with many classics being produced such as Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, High Noon, Shane, The Searchers, and Rio Bravo, among many others. One might also argue this golden age continued through the 60s, with the Spaghetti Westerns popularized by Sergio Leone, as well as revisionist films like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Wild Bunch. From the 70s on, Westerns fell into a decline, though through the years many greats have come forth. Recently though, I’ve began to wonder if we aren’t seeing a new golden age for westerns now. In the last ten years, films like The Proposition, 3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, True Grit, Rango, and Django Unchained have all been released to great success critically and often financially as well. 2015 may in fact have been the apex year for this golden age as the year is climaxing with two prestige Westerns; Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. For Tarantino, The Hateful Eight is the latest in what has been a remarkably consistent filmography, and specifically is following his first Western, the aforementioned Django Unchained. Not only does The Hateful Eight match Tarantino’s standard of excellence, but is in fact wholly superior to his first Western.

Set a few years after the Civil War, The Hateful Eight opens with bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) travelling by stagecoach to the town of Red Rock, where he plans to collect his bounty on his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Ruth is riding in the mountains against a coming blizzard, and in his travels come across fellow bounty hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). Ruth reluctantly agrees to let Warren ride with him, and the two are quickly joined by Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the son of a famed Confederate General. Given that Warren fought in the Civil War as a Union soldier, this understandably creates some tension. All three find themselves oppressed by the storm and must seek refuge in a lodge called Minnie’s Haberdashery. There, they share lodging with some colourful guests; former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), stagecoach driver O.B. Jackson (James Parks), and acting owner Bob (Demián Bichir). However things seem peculiar, to the point that Ruth and Warren begin to suspect one of these men is in league with Domergue.

Tarantino films are generally known for the memorable dialogue, profanity, colourful characters, gloriously over-the-top violence, non-linear storytelling, references to other films, and other elements which sometimes occur sporadically within a film (i.e. random sequences being animated or narrated). All of these elements do appear in some form or another in The Hateful Eight, but the film is not quite as steeped in Tarantinoisms as something like Kill Bill or Django Unchained. The referencing for example, is a lot more subdued here. The most referenced film here isn’t even a Western, but John Carpenter’s science-fiction/horror classic The Thing. Both films follow a group of hardened individuals in an isolated snowy environment, both feature Kurt Russell in a lead role, and both have a haunting score from Ennio Morricone. Despite these similar details however, both films feel very different and I don’t think Tarantino was directly drawing from Carpenter all that much. Tarantino’s over-the-top violence also appears here, but most of this material is saved for the second half. The first half of the film is all about building tension as Tarantino introduces the characters, begins to develop the story, and also begins exploring the films themes of race-based conflict. Hell, there is a lot of time set merely in the stagecoach before John Ruth, Marquis Warren, and Chris Mannix even reach Minnie’s Haberdashery. This build-up is incredibly gripping as we’re given tons of excellent dialogue, interesting characters, and subtle clues as to where things are going. The tension also builds very well and while not everyone will be on board with the over-the-top violence in the second half, I found it earned and very well-executed.

In addition to the strong execution of the typical Tarantino elements, the filmmaking as a whole is generally excellent. Much has been made of the fact that the film was shot on 70mm film, and while the presentation I saw was the standard digital (only three cities in Canada presented the “Roadshow Version” and my city wasn’t one of em), I can still say the cinematography is quite beautiful. There are some really stunning visuals, particularly in the scenes set out in the snowy mountain, and Tarantino and his cinematographer Robert Richardson also do a great job keeping the cabin-set visuals interesting. It was also a hell of a thrill to hear a new Ennio Morricone score, particularly in a high-profile Western like this. Morricone is, of course, a legend of Western scores, but his work here doesn’t really resemble the grand and operatic nature of the music from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. Instead, Morricone has created a more somber score that emphasizes tension and growing dread. All the same, it’s a great score, and while I hesitate to rank it among the master’s best, it’s certainly among the best in contemporary film scores.

The film also benefits greatly from an amazing cast. Bottle films like this lean heavily on their ensemble and for The Hateful Eight Tarantino has brought together one hell of a group. The lead character is probably Marquis Warren, a character who is perfectly suited for the badass persona Samuel L. Jackson has cultivated over the years. Jackson may not be stretching himself, but he’s perfect for this role and it’s great to see him in a lead role like this. Another actor who gets to play into an existing persona is Kurt Russell, who gets to work his John Wayne impression in an actual Western. It’s also interesting how Russell embodies many of the mannerisms and speech habits of Wayne, the leftist John Ruth is a far cry from the right-wing heroes Wayne so often played. The film also works as a pretty good showcase for Walton Goggins, who plays the confederate supporter Chris Mannix. He’s an interesting character who reveals a lot more shades than you’d expect. Goggins is also a lot of fun to watch as he really takes the part and runs with it. Tarantino players Tim Roth and Michael Madsen make strong impressions as well (along with bit parts from James Parks and Zoe Bell), while actors Bruce Dern and Demián Bichir step into the Tarantino world nicely. The film also features a really clever cameo from one Channing Tatum. Finally, there’s Jennifer Jason Leigh, who creates one of the year’s most vicious and memorable villains in Daisy Domergue. She has a tangible presence on screen even when she isn’t saying anything and she becomes more disturbing the more lines she has. Leigh disappears into the role and really goes all out.

Of course, Quentin Tarantino has always had a strong handle on how to use music cinematically (though this is only the second of his films to feature an original score),his films have gotten more and more visually sophisticated as time has gone by, and the man has always been a great actor’s director. As a result, The Hateful Eight excelling in these areas wasn’t really a surprise to me. What did surprise me about The Hateful Eight is actually the metaphorical readings that can be made. Beneath the already engaging mystery, the story is essentially about race-based conflict and how people of opposing views interact. It’s no coincidence that the residents of Minnie’s Haberdashery are divided along the lines of Union vs. Confederate, as well as a third party which uses racism as a means of advancing their own cause even if they themselves do not believe in the racial hatred. There also nuances in the characters that go beyond the bad racists and good northerners; it is more complicated than that. The film is set in the aftermath of the Civil War and is about how sides got along after the fact, but it’s also about how conflicting viewpoints co-existing in modern day city. I never would have expected such overtly political themes to pop up in a Tarantino movie. Obviously Django Unchained dealt with issues of racism as well, but that film presented a more simplistic dynamic of heroes and villains. The lines are more complicatedly drawn in The Hateful Eight and the fact that Tarantino was able to amalgamate these elements within his iconic style is a testament to his talent and growth as an artist.

The Hateful Eight is not a perfect movie. There are a few soundtrack choices which don’t really add anything, Tarantino’s own narration at points is a bit of a distraction, and there are a few minor plot holes. That said, when I think about the enormity of things the film does well and just how well those things are done, the few complaints I have are really the most minor of quibbles. This is an awesome film, one which not only excels in its execution, but also takes some really bold chances to create something special. It’s a film which could only have been made by Quentin Tarantino and it’s also one I can’t wait to see again, for both entertainment and analysis.

A+

 

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