Before I tell you what I think of The Hateful Eight (Roadshow), let me start this off by giving you some background on my feelings on Quentin Tarantino’s creative output. I loved Reservoir Dogs. In fact, I may have been mildly obsessed with it as a teenager. (a friend once bet me that i couldn’t go a whole day without quoting it. I didn’t take that bet) I thought Pulp Fiction was decent and the kitsch was fun. Jackie Brown is great. Every part of Death Proof not set in a car bored me. Kill Bill is rad. Django Unchained was just ok but had some great performances. And Inglorious Basterds was fun but forgettable. (those are the 7 features leading up to The Hateful Eight in the order that I thought of them) So, I’m by no means a “hater”. (foreshadowing) Why am I reviewing The Hateful Eight? It’s certainly not horror, but it is very violent. Besides, I watched Bone Tomahawk the night before I saw this and they’re both westerns starring Kurt Russell. So I figured, ‘why the hell not?’ You’re welcome.
John “The Hangman” Ruth (Russell!) is a bounty hunter bringing Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in to Red Rock, WY to hang for murder. Along the way, he picks up Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), and the self-proclaimed new sheriff of Red Rock, (i’m done including actor names for brevity’s sake and to avoid spoiling anything). The four, and their stagecoach driver are forced to stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery to wait out a blizzard. There, they find 3 strange men and an old confederate general. But where’s Minnie and her partner? Hmm. Suspicious. From that moment, pissing contests (not literal), tension, violence, and many, many (more) monologues ensue. Secrets are revealed. People get hurt/killed. There’s a segment out of chronological order (because Tarantino). And there are plenty of visual homages to The Thing and Reservoir Dogs (we’ve definitely reached the pinnacle of Tarantino’s artistic appropriation when he’s borrowing from his own movies) and probably other films. Presented in glorious 70mm UltraPanavision in a throwback “roadshow” cinematic experiece!
That last sentence seems snarky, so I’ll address that first before I get into criticism of the actual film. I honestly appreciate what Tarantino is doing with this film. He loves film (actual film) and he wants to share that. I love film too. And I’ve been to all of the 70mm presentations that I could get to. (thank you, Music Box Theatre, Chicago) My biggest question is, why 70mm for this film? It’s a stagey film that is set almost entirely in a single room of a cabin. Sure, the resolution looks amazing. The few vista/landscape shots we get are beautiful. But the format seems to place particular emphasis on the out-of-focus halves of Tarantino’s (frequently used) split focus shots. He’s not shooting snakes or mountain ranges here. He’s shooting a guy with a gun in the foreground and a guy with a gun in the background of a room in a cabin. I do love the film-as-experience aspects of the roadshow, but this particular selling point really disappointed. (i admit, i felt like i was ripped off paying double for this. don’t get me wrong though, i will happily pay double to see great 70mm films) So, using “70mm UltraPanavision” as a selling point, carnival barker style, piques my interest enough to get me (a sucker) to give up my dime ($20 after ‘processing’ fees). And much like a carnival attraction, the (oh, let’s say…) living, breathing, headless woman, glimpsed through the monoscopic peephole is an obvious gimmick. In this case, Tarantino has given us the 70mm UltraPanavision equivalent of the living, breathing, (forced perspective) headless woman.
As you can tell, the film disappointed me. I say I love film (and i really do), but what I mean, is that I love films. A good story. Well-developed characters. Beautiful photography. A unique perspective. Or even just some damn fun! I will watch a good film no matter what it was shot on. (ie: 28 Days Later) Shoot it on your flip phone! I will watch it if it’s good. (hell, i’ll probably watch it if it’s bad. i’m just more likely to watch if it’s good) Just think of all the shitty, shitty movies you’ve seen shot on real film. The format does not make the movie. The Hateful Eight is essentially a two-set dialogue-driven western film peppered with graphic violence (with a little mystery threaded throughout). Let me get this bright spot covered before I go on: The mystery element was intriguing and yielded at least one great surprise. The violence is awesome. Honestly. It’s shocking and intense and sloppy with sprays and splashes of blood. (and the award for most ‘and’ in a single sentence goes to…) Tarantino’s use of squibs and blood packs is perfectly cartoonish. And the cannon blast gunshot sound effects are amazing. But to bring us to those perfect moments of bullets tearing through flesh, we must endure characters monologuing for unbelievably long stretches of time. I imagined miles of 70mm film zipping through the projector as Samuel L. Jackson tells a story about a past run-in with a man on a mountain. Is the story entertaining? Sufficiently. And there were certainly some funny moments in this and other bouts of dialogue. Does it add anything substantive to the story? A little bit. Should 80% of the film consist of monologues? Hell no! (ok. it’s not really 80%) To further add to my frustration over the writing, during monologues and dialogues, other characters tend to just hang out in the background as if they are just waiting for their next scene. They might as well put the craft services table right there in the frame. When one is in a room with several other people where two people are talking to each other, one does not just stand/sit around NOT talking to your fellow room inhabitants. That’s just weird. It makes the whole thing feel like a stage play. A butt-numbingly long stage play. One where nearly all the characters are grizzled badasses who are inexplicably okay with another character collecting their guns and throwing them in the toilet with little protest. Or where a character is said to hate a whole race of humans but then is (again) inexplicably perky and sweet to one of those people in a flashback. In other words, a weak stage play that requires its audience to cut it way too much slack. If this were a first feature from a new director, it would be impressive (but still an hour too long), but it’s not. And I just can’t cut Tarantino that much slack.
The Final Cut: The Hateful Eight is an overly-long, monologue-stuffed film with the feel of a stage play. It’s super-wide aspect ratio is wasted on its 2 main settings – the interior of a stagecoach and the interior of a single cabin room. Tarantino succeeds in shocking with graphic violence, but fails to engage with his penchant for “cool” dialogue.