The Hateful Eight (2015)

Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino

I make no attempts to shield the fact that Quentin Tarantino is not my favorite filmmaker working today. Many laud him as a visionary whose scripts are as strong as his ability to twist his influences into an original story and setting. Certainly I see this in him, however my issues with Mr. Tarantino deal more with the gratuitous nature of his movies which often include over -the-top violence and self-indulgently bloated scenes of clever dialogue. I don’t intend to go though which of his films I like and don’t like, but I respect his ability as a storyteller enough to say that I at least have hope each time I see one of his films, that there may be  a chance I will enjoy myself. Coming off Django Unchained, a film I didn’t like all that much, and aware that The Hateful Eight runs at a svelte 2 Hr 48 Min, I was dreading a bloated, overdone mess.

Instead, Tarantino once again shows off his penchant for storytelling by developing interesting characters and crafting clever dialogue in an intriguing Western setting. That isn’t to say Tarantino doesn’t let you know for damn sure that this is his film. Opening with a wintry encounter between bounty hunters, Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), The Hateful Eight becomes a parlor mystery when the two make their way to a haberdashery along with Ruth’s prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a supposed new Sheriff  (Walton Goggins), all seeking shelter from the impending blizzard. They find the haberdashery left in the care of a suspicious Mexican (Demian Bichir), an actual hangman (Tim Roth), a cowboy (Michael Madsen), and an old Confederate general (Bruce Dern).

The ensemble cast, as large as it is, is the lynchpin of a film which relies heavily on the entertainment value of a bunch of men stuck in a room talking. Not quite 12 Angry Men, but what Tarantino does infuse the story with is a certain sense of realistic charm, which is a term I would have never guessed I would have written when talking about Quentin. The story is somehow grounded in the type of Old West story that is quite believable, which isn’t to say the film doesn’t become quite unbelievable. Tarantino casts the more important roles quite well, such as Jackson, Goggins and Russell. However, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the performances given by Jennifer Jason Leigh, whose Daisy feels like a caricature as a result of a performance that feels far too much like a performance;  and Bichir, whose Senor Bob sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the others. Tim Roth, on the other hand, is quite enjoyable, even if his delivery seems to indicate Tarantino simply couldn’t get his first choice of Christoph Waltz for the part.

There are also elements to the film which are classic Tarantino from the beginning. For instance, the story, which makes for a great idea for a stage play or extended short story, never feels as though it needs the full 3 hour run time. Tarantino seems excited about the prospect of milking so many moments for an extra second, or minute in some cases, bloating the final result into something longer than it needs to be. Luckily for Quentin, his story and dialogue are good enough for it not to feel quite as long, which simply means The Hateful Eight could have been even tauter, and probably a better film because of it. And while this is one of his less violent films, when violence and gore does pop up, it promises to be just as Quentin as any of his past films, which is more of a warning for those that are like me and are usually turned off by the gratuitous nature of his penchant for violence.

At this point, it feels like I have discussed many of the elements I didn’t like about the film, but in reality I liked the film quite a bit. I think looking back at the list of things that detracted from my enjoyment of the film helps put the strength of the film in perspective. Tarantino has proven to be a great storyteller, whose scripts could often benefit from him getting out of the way of himself and his ego (though some like him for this very reason – to each his own). The Hateful Eight is no different. It is the type of film whose plot became better and more interesting as it ran along, as more layers were revealed and the characters further developed. Near the beginning I was giving it a chance, but by the end I was hooked. Even now I am in awe of how much I ended up liking this.

***1/2 – Great

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