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Hateful Eight, The

Review by: 
Suicide Blonde
Release Date: 
Weinstein Company
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Quentin Tarantino
Samuel L. Jackson
Kurt Russell
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Walton Goggins
Demián Bichir
Bottom Line: 

This year’s award for truth in advertising will undoubtedly have to go to Quentin Tarantino’s latest, The Hateful Eight. Its main characters are hateful in both senses of the word—they’re full of hatred and deserving of hatred—and the result is arguably Tarantino’s darkest film.

In an unspecified post-Civil War time period, a stagecoach is making its way into the Wyoming mountains, just ahead of a horrific blizzard. Bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell, doing a good John Wayne impersonation) is transporting Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock, where she’ll be hanged for murder. They soon pick up another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), sitting in the middle of the road atop three corpses (Warren prefers bringing in his wanted-dead-or-alive bounties dead, whereas Ruth prides himself on seeing that prisoners be hanged for their crimes); later they pick up Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be the newly elected sheriff of Red Rock. Tensions escalate as Ruth casually beats Daisy whenever she smart-mouths him, and racial hatred brews between former Confederate raider Mannix and former Union cavalryman Warren.

Things don’t improve when the coach arrives at Minnie’s Haberdashery, an isolated way station atop the mountains, in the middle of nowhere. The group find that the Haberdashery is already occupied—not by the owners, who are allegedly away visiting relatives, but by cowboy John Gage (Michael Madsen), Englishman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth, presumably because Christoph Waltz was busy filming Spectre), taciturn Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir), and aged Confederate General Smithers (Bruce Dern). All of these people will have to wait out the blizzard, while simmering tensions rise to the boiling point, characters reveal their connections to each other, questions arise as to who can be trusted, and—surprise, surprise!—violence erupts in spectacular fashion.

The Hateful Eight is perhaps the ultimate slow-burn film, with much of its first half devoted to establishing the setting with wide-screen shots of the cold, empty landscape and arranging the initial character dynamics and conflicts. I say “initial” because as the film progresses, relatively sympathetic characters reveal depths of cruelty and unsympathetic ones become relatively more likable. And throughout, Tarantino ramps up the tension, as the audience waits for outcomes both unexpected and otherwise.

I suspect that The Hateful Eight is destined to be one of Tarantino’s more divisive films. Some have complained that the film is too talky or too long; while it is a long and talky film, at times like a filmed play, if you like Tarantino’s way with dialogue and characters, you probably won’t mind the talkiness, and it never felt long to me (though it will be interesting to see how the film holds up to a second viewing).

What may cause greater division is its refusal to play nice. As the characters shift allegiances and decide what they really want when the chips are down, the audience realizes that there’s no sympathetic character to root for. As things progress, the situation becomes downright nihilistic. Many of Tarantino’s other films had strange sorts of moral victories, such as Jules Winfield renouncing the hit man life and Butch the boxer saving Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction; more recent efforts have sought to give gory payback to Nazis and slavers (Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained respectively) or have had women defeat a serial murderer (Death Proof). But The Hateful Eight is a much more cynical affair; any justice is meted out in such a dubious fashion that it scarcely feels like justice, and the one bit of hopefulness is based on lies.

But even in such a dark film, there’s plenty of humor to be found, though it’s of a queasy, uncomfortable kind (in particular Ruth’s treatment of Daisy, which at times almost strays into Three Stooges levels of slapstick violence). There’s also some excellent acting on hand, particularly from Jackson as the eloquent and morally gray Marquis Warren, and Leigh, who brings a feral intensity to her Daisy Domergue. The movie also looks great and features an atmospheric score by Ennio Morricone (his first Western score in decades).

It’s not a film I will revisit often—it’s too dark and ugly for that—but it’s an excellent peek at morally reprehensible people and the toll that violence, hatred, racism, and misogyny can take.

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