What better way to spend Christmas day, honoring the Prince of Peace, then to watch a Quentin Tarantino film, and all that entails–profanity (including liberal use of the “N” word) and blood-soaked violence. It is an entertaining if over long and typically self-indulgent effort by Tarantino, with a patented performance by Samuel L. Jackson.
I saw the 70mm “Road Show” edition, complete with overture and intermission, as Tarantino remains stuck in the past. The film is a Western, but is also something of an Agatha Christie mystery. Why he was hung up on shooting this in 70mm is curious, since most of the film is set inside one room (and another large chunk inside a stagecoach). It reminds me of how The Diary of Anne Frank was shot in Cinemascope even though it was set entirely in a cramped attic.
We are in Wyoming, sometime after the Civil War. A stage makes it’s way ahead of a blizzard. Jackson, playing a former Major in the Union Army, has lost his horse and stops the coach looking for a ride. He is a bounty hunter, toting three bodies. The passenger is another bounty hunter, Kurt Russell, who has a prisoner, Jennifer Jason Leigh. He does not kill his bounties, as he is known as “The Hangman.” As Jackson points out, “When the Hangman catches you, you don’t die by a bullet. When the Hangman catches you, you hang.”
They, plus the driver (James Parks), makes it to a place called Minnie’s Haberdashery as the blizzard hits. The proprietors are away, mysteriously. Left in charge is a Mexican (Demian Bichir). Also there is an old Confederate general, Bruce Dern, and two other travelers, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen. They all have secrets. So, we have eight people in a closed location, and after all the lengthy talk, the killing starts.
As with most Tarantino films, The Hateful Eight is something of a live-action cartoon, given to over-the-top acting and sequences. There are, in no particular order, a severed limb, a head literally blown apart, many mentions of the male sexual apparatus (including a man fellating another man), blood and brains spattered around the room, and slapstick comedy, especially involving a door that won’t stay closed. There is, of course, a lot of discussion of race, as Jackson, who fought on the Union side, and Dern, on the Confederate, don’t see eye to eye. Walton Goggins, one of the eight, was a raider for the South (loosely based on Quantrill’s raiders, I’m guessing).
We’re used to by now Tarantino’s use of racial epithets to prove he’s not a racist (indeed, our sympathies at all time lie with Jackson, who is the hero of the film) but he’s added misogyny to the mix. He’s had so many strong female characters, and Leigh turns out to be one of them, but he seems to take too much joy in seeing her beaten. In this day and age, watching a woman having her teeth knocked out just isn’t funny, although Tarantino seems to think it is.
After the first person dies, there is a drawing room mystery as two men die of poisoned coffee. This is where the Ten Little Indians pastiche starts, as one by one more characters die. None go peacefully. Then we get a flashback so more characters are killed off, and this leads to an oddly anti-climactic ending.
Jackson is just great here. There’s more than a little Jules from Pulp Fiction–the cadences of his speech are the same. Russell seems to be doing a John Wayne imitation; I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not. Leigh doesn’t have much to say until the end of the film, but when she does (her face covered in blood) she lets ‘er rip. Goggins gives a performance so over-the-top that it becomes fascinating to watch.
As you may gather, I’m ambivalent about The Hateful Eight. I liked it on a visceral level, and it keeps in good standing with Tarantino’s recent work (I’d rate it ahead of Django Unchained but not as good as Inglorious Basterds). The beginning of the film is very talky, with exposition coming thick. The film picks up just before intermission, and then turns into carnage, and at that point, while I thought it was brilliantly shot and edited, I had to wonder, to what end? Tarantino begins the film by stating it’s his eighth (this means he’s either counting Kill Bill as one film or having us forget about Grindhouse) and recently stated that he’s only going to make ten films before he turns to novels and/or theater. It is my hope that, before he retires, he makes a film that is about humanity rather than just about other films.