There’s Little To Hate About “The Hateful Eight”

Note: This review covers the 70mm, 3-hour cut of “The Hateful Eight”.  Some notes regarding changes for the wide-release cut may come later….

The Hateful Eight is unlike any film Quentin Tarantino has ever made.  It has the slow-paced, meditative quality of Jackie Brown…before exploding in the second half into a bloodfest a la Kill Bill vol. 1.  And it is charged with themes of suspicion, loyalty, and honesty in the vein of Reservoir Dogs.  And yet it doesn’t feel like any of those films…not quite.

Actually, remove Samuel L. Jackon’s performance, Quentin’s own cameo as a Rod-Sterling-type voice-over narrator, and maybe a brief dalliance in his classic “non-linear” chapter structure…and one could be forgiven for linking the movie to Paul Thomas Anderson or Darren Aronofsky.  While there’s certainly enough here to see Quentin’s unmistakable signature…The Hateful Eight is, very much, a sign of him expanding the horizons of his style.

He did it before–again, with Jackie Brown…before swinging the pendulum to “wild-and-crazy Exploitation cinema” from Kill Bill on.  And like Jackie Brown, The Hateful Eight is a “mature” work.  There are no sound gags like in Kill Bill, no whipping quick-zoom camera work like in Django Unchained.  The camera is careful and assured, with moments of cinematic brilliance, shots beautifully framed and motions meticulously crafted.  There are even moments of slow-motion for purposes of drama.  And of course, there is an original score, courtesy of the legendary master of the Spaghetti Western “sound”, Ennio Morricone.  The 3-hour cut even has an overture and intermission–both of which help a great deal in cementing the right mood at the right time.

Is there violence?  Naturally.  Blood-fests?  Certainly.  Gratuitous?  Maybe.  But unlike the films of his “Exploitation” phase–from Kill Bill to Django–never once is the violence “cartoony”.  Instead we see a return to the gritty, “realer-than-real” violence of his masterpieces of the Nineties–and the film is all the better for it.

The Hateful Eight is Quentin’s darkest work–darker than even his original screenplay for Natural Born Killers.  The man himself once said that his characters are as a rule “refreshingly free” of cinematic standards for “moral” heroes.  Nowhere is this more true than in this movie.  None of the Eight are unscathed–each and every one has a dark side, and even those you may have initially thought were “good guys” are severely tarnished as certain facts are revealed.

It has to be this way.  Comparisons have been made between this film and the classic board game Clue.  Interestingly enough, that game has been adapted into a movie…as a corny comedy with a cornier gimmick of multiple endings.  The Hateful Eight could arguably be seen as a deconstruction of that film: In reality, a set of equally suspect characters locked in a house with a mystery hanging over their heads would not be cute.  In reality, with “suggestions” and accusations flying, and clues thrown around and withheld left and right…things almost certainly would get real ugly–real fast.

Anyway, any real discussion of the plot would involve spoilers.  This is a mystery story without a designated detective: We, the audience, must piece together what we observe and hear from the characters’ mouths.

I do not want to give any spoilers, here.  So I will give you the Eight, and the “first impressions” they give:

Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is a former major in the U.S. Cavalry, known for his harshly pragmatic tactics.  He brings that same harsh pragmatism to his new career as a bounty hunter: He always kills his “Dead-Or-Alive” targets.  No exceptions.

John “Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell and a humungous moustache) is a bounty hunter himself…with an unrelenting code of Lawful Justice that demands he always brings his bounties in alive.  No exceptions.

Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) is Ruth’s prisoner.  She seems to have made it her mission to troll and needle and troll some more.  She’s Wanted: Dead Or Alive for murder, for $10,000.

Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) is a former Confederate Captain whose father had led a regiment of guerillas in the War.  He claims he’s just been elected sheriff of Red Rock–which means the two bounty hunters, both pro-Union, have to answer to him.  In the meantime, he seems to be trying too hard to be a friendly goofball.

Bob (Demian Bichir) is a jovial Mexican hombre who’s currently overseeing the haberdashery everyone has to take shelter in from the coming blizzard.  He says the owner, whom Warren knows, is off visiting her mother.  And he seems to have a chip on his shoulder over someone doubting his honesty.

Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) has business cards ID-ing him as the local hangman.  He waxes eloquent on the need for dispassionate objectivity in dispensing Justice, and promotes himself as the voice of reason among the Eight.

Sanford “Don’t-Give-A-D–n” Smithers (Bruce Dern) is an elderly Confederate General harboring a lot of bitter nostalgia about the War.  He says he’s out to find a gravestone for his dead son.  He sits in his chair and doesn’t want to get up…and he certainly doesn’t want to give any respects to any (N-word) in a Union uniform.

Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) is a quiet cowboy who keeps to himself.  When he’s not in the corner writing his life story, he’s lounging on a bunk taking a snooze.  He says he’s recently earned a good deal of money, and intends to visit his mother.

Who are the good guys?  Who are the bad guys?  If you think you know…to quote Ayn Rand, check your premises, and think twice.  Even if you think you’re sure where Quentin’s sympathies “would” lie…keep in mind that sometimes, he surprises even himself.  Your opinions of certain characters will be constantly challenged–especially in a dark sequence where someone we were certain was a “hero” paints himself in a shocking light.  Cue…INTERMISSION…!!!

An emotionally stirring finale may or may not bring tears to your eyes.  All I know is, Aristotle’s classical definition of “catharsis”–the emotional purge, the state of being “blown away”–certainly applies to the end of this movie.

It is a sad irony that The Hateful Eight has been partly overshadowed by a certain divisive controversy.  For amid all the darkness, carnage, and yes, hatred filling this movie…there is something powerfully uplifting in its ultimate theme of unity: Specifically, enemies putting aside their differences to unite against true villainy.  Raymond Chandler wrote: “In everything that can be called ‘art’ there is the quality of redemption.”  And for all the darkness, there is redemption in this movie.  Irony and truth come together at last, hate is challenged–and for all the hubbub over a certain “Lincoln Letter”, Honest Abe’s legacy provides, astonishingly, an undercurrent of hope–in the film…and for the audience.

Rated “R” for language (Yes, Spike Lee, that includes the N-word), gallons of blood, and a dark sequence involving…humiliation.  This movie is NOT for children, or for the squeamish or faint of heart…any more than it’s for people with short attention spans.

Startin’ to see pictures, ain’t you?

Movie Grade: A

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