The Hateful Eight
As usual, I’ve been avoiding reading reviews of the writer and director Quentin Tarantino’s latest outing until I get my own down; but someone yesterday couldn’t resist mentioning to me that a couple of people have spoken of it as comparable to the work of Sam Peckinpah. And OK, I shouldn’t judge without knowing the context; but in my opinion whoever came out with that should be bloody ashamed of themselves. Sure, they have both made Westerns; but beyond that I can’t really see any great resemblance.
Despite not being much of a Tarantino fan I was really looking forward to The Hateful Eight, a big wide-screen 70mm Western; and a feast of a movie at that, coming in at a little under three hours.
And my expectations stayed high over that majestic first five minutes, where we are treated to a series of beautiful shots that establish the emptiness of a snow-covered Wyoming terrain, before the camera focuses on a close-up of what at first appears to be a bizarrely-shaped tree. As Tarantino pulls back we realise that it is an image of a snow-draped Christ on the Cross. And as the great Ennio Morricone’s sombre and foreboding main theme plays, we see a stage approaching in the distance. Great stuff.
However, since that scene, coupled with a terrific Roy Orbison song that plays over the end credits were my favourite parts, I’m going to have to finally admit that Tarantino movies are just not for me. I loved both Jackie Brown and his recent Django Unchained but — those aside — the guy’s style just leaves me cold.
He’s obviously a talented film-maker (as well as being someone who really loves films) and as a self-publicist is second to none; but he doesn’t do it for me. And The Hateful Eight cements that feeling.
Set perhaps a decade after the end of the American Civil War, it is a very talky piece that turns into something of a murder mystery in the second half.
Tarantino draws heavily on his debut film Reservoir Dogs in having a group of disparate and unsympathetic characters claustrophobically locked together in one location, a frontier hostelry called Minnie’s Haberdashery. And for the most part this works well, the vastness of the uncompromisingly hostile Great Outdoors contrasting with the uneasy security of being inside and which is represented nicely by the motif of the Eight having to regularly nail a banjaxed door closed against the elements.
One has to admire him in deciding to film in 70mm, only to spend so much time in a stagecoach or one room. That takes a lot of confidence; but then that’s something that this artist has never been short of.
He also messes around with the timeframe, as he did with Pulp Fiction. Throw in some of his regular actors such as Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth and a badly underused Michael Madsen and this couldn’t have been made by anyone else.
And of course he is as determinedly un-politically correct as ever. Jennifer Jason Leigh as the brutal prisoner Daisy Domergue is battered endlessly as well as having blood vomited over her in one particularly charming scene. If any women’s groups turn up at this they will just sit there speechless. But they needn’t feel singled out as Mexicans don’t get a particularly nice time of it either. And as for rednecks and blacks, I think that Tarantino is now verging on the pathological with his use of the word ‘nigger’. Over-the-top doesn’t even begin to describe it but he certainly can come out with some great lines when he wants to. I loved Tim Roth as the Englishman commenting that:
“Americans aren’t apt to let a little thing like unconditional surrender get in the way of a good war.”
Equally enjoyable are some of the utterances from Kurt Russell’s bounty hunter as he rehashes the John Wayne speech patterns he used in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China – only this time he is playing a complete bastard. As is almost everyone in the film. (Inglorious Bastards?)
Kurt is also very impressive in the facial hair department, looking –I’m guessing on purpose — like the demented and fiercely mustachioed cartoon character, Yosemite Sam.
Which reminds me: why does everyone get so damned upset about the level of violence in Tarantino’s films? The aforementioned, legendary director Sam Peckinpah (of whom Tarantino is an admirer) was able, when at his best, to direct scenes of violence that still have the power to disturb nearly half-a-century later.
The violence here, in contrast, is as cartoonish as Yosemite Sam himself: bullet wounds spurt two pints of blood in slow motion and heads disappear in a spray of brains; but we feel nothing because it never seems real; nor do we care for the characters. (One exception here was a beautiful little cameo from an actress called Zoë Bell as a New Zealand stage coach rider. In ten minutes she made Six-Horse Judy more real than anyone else in the entire film.
If there is one truly horrific and nauseating scene in The Hateful Eight then it’s in an appalling monologue delivered by Samuel L. Jackson. And here we see next to nothing.
Although played comparatively straight, Tarantino once more pulls us out of the film on occasion as he jars us with anachronistic-sounding songs and by himself voicing an omnipotent narrator who even manages to comment obliquely on the film’s intermission.
All very odd, but Tarantino is nothing if not his own voice – despite his endless references to other films — and if you’re already a fan then this is for you.
If, like me, you can take the guy or leave him then you’re unlikely to find your mind changed by The Hateful Eight.