What better way to end the year and cap off my first 100 reviews than a Quentin Tarantino film. The man needs no introduction. Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Inglorious Basterds, and Django: Unchained are some of my favorites, with their exceptional quality of filmmaking and gleeful violence in the spirit of cult classics. I was nonetheless excited to see his latest in an actual theater. Was The Hateful Eight another worthy entry in Tarantino’s filmography or should I have seen Force Awakens a third time?
Stuck in the middle of a blizzard with seven strangers, Major Warren, played by Samuel Jackson, becomes a key player in a conspiracy by the outlaw Daisy Domergue, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and another individual. The group spends the whole storm trying to divine her accomplice.
In regards to the rest of his films, Eight is Basterds meets Django with the revenge element reserved for only a part of the story. The amount of monologues and conversations between characters is pushed to the limit with the entire first half devoted to talking and some pretty good shots of the snow covered landscape. Afterwards the classic ultra violence is kicked into high gear as the mystery unfolds between blood splatters and death. If the whole movie were the second half, I would not have to talk about the issues with the rest of the movie.
There is no denying Tarantino can write dialog like nobody’s business. The opening of Basterds has about as much tension as It Follows and the conversation between Walken and Hopper in True Romance is the reason anyone remembers that movie. What those films have in common is the lengthy dialog is scattered throughout with plenty of breaks in between. For every sit-down in a diner, there was a witty digression into the European concept of the cheeseburger; for every diatribe about slavery, there was a bloody shoot out in a fancy house.
Eight is front loaded with endless expository dialog about what the characters did in the past and why they are passing through the region on their way to the next town. A lot of it is repeated in different ways when it would have been better saved for later. One moment is when Warren talks about Confederate soldiers hunting him down after the Civil War. It comes up twice on the way to the cabin where the movie takes place and again in a conversation with Bruce Dern’s General Smithers, where it was relevant. While too much dialog, even if it is good, can be a problem, it is a useful problem in regards to Eight.
The main theme is one of racial conflict. Smithers and Sheriff Mannix, played by Walton Goggins, are both Confederates, and Domergue is your average racist. For the whole runtime they are at odds with Warren, calling him every offensive epithet in the book while remaining untrusting for his association with the Union. Without giving anything away, him and another character come to a mutual understanding based on morality and the basic concept of justice. They transcend their ideologies and color for a common good, which I feel speaks to Tarantino’s own values. And all of that is established in the character’s long conversations and exposition at the beginning. It takes a long time for any of it to mean something, but I think it was worth it, despite the fact it dragged the pacing to an agonizing crawl.
As for the rest of the movie, the choice to shoot on film was a good decision. It brought out the landscapes covered in snow, various scenery pieces like a forest of birch trees, and mountains in the distance. Personally I do not think what you shoot with matters as long as the movie is good, but in this situation it warrants mention. Force Awakens was shot on film, but it was not treated like a benchmark for showing how beautiful everything looked, and most of that movie was great enough that it was not important.
Jackson was his usual charismatic self, doing and saying everything with a sense of style that has only gotten better with age. Kurt Russell was in his element as the bounty hunter Ruth and Domergue’s captor. He was fun with his firm adherence to the law and short spats of heart that penetrated his seemingly ignorant personality. Goggins had a great turn as a doddering middle-aged lawman desperate to capture the glory of the old days. The rest of the small star-studded cast pulled their weight with Tarantino alum like Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and James Parks.
Die-hard fans do not need me to recommend The Hateful Eight. Like myself, they will buy a ticket regardless. However, I can separate my bias enough to see the obvious flaws and advise caution. If you can stand long conversations of labyrinthine dialog, by all means give it a look. Otherwise, I recommend Basterds and Django if you want something with the same premise, but easier to watch.