The Hateful Great, This Ain’t.
Your typical Quentin Tarantino movie is full of scenes that are powder kegs ready to explode, full of characters you can’t trust, and smart, crackling dialogue that keeps you constantly entertained. But what if the dialog stopped being smart and crackling? You’d have The Hateful Eight.
We’re told in the very beginning that this is the “8th Film by Quentin Tarantino,” which is the simply the first self indulgence of many here. Now, it’s well known that Quentin Tarantino tends to be the most popular example of modern filmic self indulgence, but here he just goes too far. Allow me to explain.
The basic setup for the film is that several seemingly bad men end up in the same location to have conversations and possibly kill each other at a moment’s notice. Sound familiar? Yes, this is basically a Western remake of Reservoir Dogs with more colorful outfits and better characters. The setup works; it’s tiresome by the end. Kurt Russell stars as “Hangman” John Ruth, a bounty hunter who has captured Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy Domergue, and is bringing her to Red Rock to hang. A blizzard fast approaches, and while attempting to outrun the blizzard, he ends up picking up another bounty hunter, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and the self proclaimed new sheriff of Red Rock, portrayed by Walton Goggins. Much mistrust ensues.
What the movie gets right is the mix of characters and their portrayal. All of the actors really get their roles, and the only person who feels like he’s “acting” i Tim Roth, who’s acting like Christoph Waltz, who his part was clearly written for. Kurt Russell is an impressive blowhard, Demian Bichir as “Bob” is consistently entertaining, and Samuel L Jackson basically owns every scene he’s in. Watching these actors work is rewarding.
Where the movie goes wrong, horribly wrong, is in the dialog. No longer is Tarantino writing clever, quotable dialog, but instead he’s using offensive words as a crutch. If you’re not comfortable hearing “the n word” 937 times, this is not a movie for you. (I may be exaggerating on the count, but I’m not so sure.) If you’re not comfortable seeing the only woman in the main cast being used, literally, as a punching bag for comedy’s sake, this is not a movie for you. There is no validating reason for these offenses against good taste. It’s not used for surprise, or to make a point. I’m guessing that Quentin Tarantino must like to hear black people insulted a lot, or see women be physically abused, so he wrote it into his movie. I can think of no other explanation.
Technically speaking, the movie is wonderful. The much discussed “Roadshow Edition,” projected in 70mm, will be a wonderful experience (provided you find a theater that knows how to properly run a 70mm projector). The outdoor scenes of a snowy Western landscape have a blinding whiteness that contribute to helping you feel the character’s fear of the oncoming blizzard. The indoor scenes use the entire width of the frame, often putting characters in the far margins to deliver important lines. There is a large helping of rack focus in the film as well, sometimes up to three levels, making a well focused screening of this film an absolute must. (Note: our screening of this was a digital version of the Roadshow print, which is longer and contains an intermission. Focus issues are extremely rare in digital projection, so it may be a “safe” way to see this film.)
Of particular note is the score, by the great film composer Ennio Morricone, which is used mainly in the outdoor scenes. This could be the year he finally wins an Oscar for a score, not simply for “magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music,” although that sounds pretty cool. It’s the first time Tarantino has actually commissioned a score, and I’m glad he did.
The Hateful Eight isn’t even close to a disaster; it’s simply too full of itself to be worth recommending to anyone who isn’t completely in the tank for Tarantino. It’s not going to be a crowd pleaser, and it’s not going to make any new fans. It’s bloody, crass, offensive, and morally bankrupt, yet the worst offense is that it’s a tired retread. And I’m over it.
The Hateful Eight Roadshow Edition is playing in select Bay Area Theaters, and opens everywhere on January 1.