The Hateful Eight (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Posted: January 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

Almost every character in “The Hateful Eight” is a liar. They lie to save themselves, they lie by omission, or they lie for nefarious reasons.  The film even lets the characters present some information that might be a lie, but then never actually tells us if they are actually lying or not.  If the film has a political message, and Tarantino has said in interviews that the film is political, then the message is that America is based on lies, or maybe just one big lie.  Tarantino’s last two films were also political, but in a different way. “Inglourious Basterds” (sic) was an alternate-history revenge tale wherein Jews were able to exact revenge on the evils of the Nazis. “Django Unchained” was a slave revenge fantasy, but mainly dealt with white guilt over slavery. After all, it is the white bounty hunter played Christoph Waltz who kills the evil plantation owner played by Leo DiCaprio in the end, leaving the titular Django the deal with the lesser albeit smarter villain of Sam Jackson’s house slave.  “The Hateful Eight” isn’t about something as specific as the Nazis or slavery.  “The Hateful Eight”, taking place sometime after the Civil War, is about America, racism, violence, and criminal justice…but it’s not exactly eloquent with what it is trying to say. The bottom line seems to be that America is built on lies and violence, the wounds from the Civil War have not healed, being evil for an ideology is slightly better than being evil for profit, and justice is a fungible concept based largely on semantics.


If the message isn’t clearer, it’s because Tarantino is too in love with his dialogue, and too focused on telling his story, that he doesn’t really take the time to articulate his message. If the opening shot is of a wooden crucifix sticking out of the snow, is he making a comment about religion in the United States? About the fetishization of violent imagery? Or was it just a cool shot to pull back slowly on as the credits role and Ennio Morricone’s excellent score fills the theater?  When black bounty hunter Warren (Sam Jackson) has an argument with former Lost Causer Mannix (Walton Goggins) about the morality of North violence versus South violence, and collateral damage caused by seemingly just violence, which side is Tarantino taking?  Or are we just being set up for these characters to hate each other so that they can join forces later, and make a different comment about reaching across the aisle?  When hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) argues that the difference between justice and mob rule is the death penalty being dispensed by an impartial, dispassionate party, is Tarantino arguing that himself, or is he commenting on the absurdity of American justice in general? Hell, is Tarantino for or against the Death Penalty? I don’t have a clue, and it’s possible Tarantino is simply trying to raise issues and not actually argue a point.


As a film, “The Hateful Eight” is a jolly good time.  I sadly did not get to see it in 70mm, but even the digital print shows us great, expansive snow-covered vistas and warm, claustrophobic cabin interiors which make the film feel like a great stage play.  The score is phenomenal for this sort of thing, and the actors all know how to find the right balance to play this material.  If the film maybe has a bit too much gleeful violence against women, two or so stereotypical caricatures of black women, and has it’s only Mexican character be a negative portrayal, I suppose asking for the not-ever-subtle Tarantino to give us nuanced social justice in a film is asking too much, though he has done better portrayals of blacks and women before in “Jackie Brown”, his least respected film.


The plot is fairly simple. Bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is attempting to bring wanted fugitive Daisy (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) into the town of Red Rock to be hanged and collect $10,000.00.  While attempting to beat an impending blizzard there, they come across Warren and, eventually, allow him to tag along with his 3 dead fugitives, which he is also bringing to Red Rock. As the blizzard hits, they take shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery (actually a lodge), where Minnie is missing, but other patrons are present, including Mobray, a Mexican named Bob (Demian Bichir), a cowboy named Joe (Michael Madsen), and an old Confederate General (Bruce Dern).  As the film progresses, political tensions between the former Union solider Warren and the Confederates mount. Arguably the best scene of the film involves Warren telling the General about finding the man’s son and, well, you’ll have to see for yourself.  In addition, Ruth becomes convinced that one or more of the other patrons are in cahoots with Daisy and see to have her set loose.


Tarantino is slightly restrained for the earlier part of the film.  The film takes a while to build, and the director’s penchant for violence doesn’t really hit until just before the end of the first half, where I assume the 70mm cuts to intermission.  Once the first body drops, well, it’s a downhill rollercoaster from there.  The characters, while arch and sometimes cartoonish, do the job in the way they would be arch if this was an Agatha Christie novel, or some other closed-room murder mystery.  Odd that Tarantino chose to combine the Western and the Civil War narrative with a stage-ish mystery story, but it works. The film, for however confusing it’s message is, is well made and, for a film that clocks in at just under 3 hours, a helluva lot of fun and never boring.  It moves slow, but never TOO slow.


8 films in, you know if you do or do not like Tarantino.  Of his more recent films, I liked this better than “Django” but not as much as “Basterds”, and it’s obviously better than “Death Proof”.  The film is ultimately much ado about, well, not nothing, but about less than the ado is worth.  The sense you leave the theater with is that Tarantino does not really like all of the bullshit surrounding America, the whole nationalist exceptionalism stuff, even if he doesn’t overly hate America and seems to really enjoy the one genre, the Western, that romanticizes America more than any other.  “The Hateful Eight” isn’t a deep movie, or as showy as some of Tarantino’s others, but it is well made and a lot of fun, and is technically head and shoulders above most of what Hollywood puts out. A-.


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