Quentin Tarantino is one of my favorite filmmakers and I always look forward to seeing his newest offering every two or three years. Since his breakthrough in 1992 with Reservoir Dogs, he has delivered some of the best and most entertaining films coming out of Hollywood. He's developed a very unique and easy to recognize style - crackling dialogue, interesting characters, over the top violence, and inspired casting choices are among the most obvious clues you're watching a Tarantino film - and because of this, if you're not a fan of his style, his films might not be for you.
Movie Review: The Hateful Eight
By Clint Chirpich
January 11, 2016
Thankfully, I am a fan and I was treated to yet another excellent film last night when I sat down to watch The Hateful Eight, a traditional western with the Tarantino twist.
The plot of The Hateful Eight is very straightforward and simple: a bounty hunter named John Ruth (Kurt Russell, in all his grizzled and mustachioed glory) is transporting a wanted fugitive (Daisy Domergue, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) through the mountains of Wyoming to town so she can be tried, found guilty, and hanged for her crimes. Before they can complete their journey, a blizzard forces them to stop at a halfway point and wait out the storm with a cast of interesting and potentially treacherous characters.
Among those characters is Major Marquis Warren, a former slave and retired Civil War Calvary hero, embodied with aplomb by the magnificent Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson is one of Tarantino's favorite actors - he has appeared, however briefly and sometimes in uncredited roles, in all but three of the director's films - and he has another great role in The Hateful Eight. Warren is funny, charming, and devious. He's a bounty hunter himself and is on somewhat friendly terms with Ruth, so they make a pact to help each other out until the storm clears and they can be on their way again. Jackson is able to portray Warren as both likable and despicable, sometimes in the same scene, and this makes for a very intriguing character to follow.
The rest of the cast is a mix a different archetypes - the gentlemanly foreigner (Tim Roth, using his native UK accent for a change), the Confederate general (Bruce Dern), the cowboy (Michael Madsen, in his first big film in a decade), the Mexican (Demián Bichir), and the Rebel outlaw (Walton Goggins) - but all are perfectly realized and unique characters played by talented actors. There's not a wasted character or performance among them and they all interconnect wonderfully.
My two favorite aspects of movies are the writing and the acting, two things Tarantino films always deliver, and The Hateful Eight is no different. Sometimes it's hard to separate the two: are the performances great because the characters are so well written or do the characters seem fantastic because the actors are elevating the material? I think it's a combination of both in this case.
Kurt Russell is generally good in most films, but he delivers an excellent performance here. John Ruth is a cold, calculating, untrusting son of a bitch. He routinely beats on his prisoner, who admittedly deserves what she gets, and uses the threat of violence as his icebreaker for conversations with new acquaintances. Russell fits all the right notes and makes Ruth a truly memorable character, someone who is as quick with a gun as he is with a joke.
Jennifer Jason Leigh really shines as the malicious and disgusting Daisy. She's obviously a dangerous psychopath and rampant bigot, but she's also really funny. I wouldn't say she's a likable character, but she's a fun one to watch. I've been a fan of Leigh's for years and it's great to see her get such an interesting role in a big film for a change. I hope it manages to reignite her career - something Tarantino seems to have a knack for doing.
Walton Goggins, though, does the nearly impossible and virtually steals the film from his more famous costars. I've thoroughly enjoyed Goggins in what I've seen (mostly the television series Sons of Anarchy and Tarantino's own Django Unchained), so his performance wasn't really a shock to me, but I didn't expect him to be the highlight of the film. His Chris Mannix is something of an enigma, and you're never quite sure if he's immensely stupid, slyly intelligent, or some weird combination of both. He's a fiery patriot and shows almost childlike reverence to Dern's retired general, but also pays a decent amount of respect to Major Warren, displaying his ability to play both sides. Throughout the film, I was never sure if I could trust him, but I loved watching his story and character unfold. Goggins has an infectious smile and I found myself smiling most of the time he was onscreen.
The Hateful Eight is full of extreme violence and over the top blood and gore. Those are a staple of Tarantino's style and if you're into that kind of thing, like I am, you won't be disappointed. Even though I expected it, I was still shocked at several different moments.
The film is a little less than three hours long, but I never felt bored and it certainly didn't feel like I was sitting in the theater for anywhere near that amount of time. The mix of humor, action, and suspense really keeps the film moving.
Considering the majority of the film takes place in one large room, Tarantino does an excellent job at making a beautiful film. The landscapes (mountains and woods covered in snow) add a lot to the beginning portion, but even the inside of the cabin itself is nice to look at. The set design is intriguing (the cabin really feels authentic and lived in) and the walls and doors let in just the perfect amount of light and snow from the outside.
The Hateful Eight isn't perfect, of course, and a couple small things did bother me.
For one, the soundtrack is a bit uninspired for a Tarantino film. I can't really remember any of the songs used, which is unusual. The score - composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone - is excellent, though.
Another oddity that bothered me was a weird decision to use voiceover narration in just one scene towards the middle of the film. It was a jarring change of style and I don't think it added anything. Of course, Tarantino provided the narration and I feel he might have used the technique as a way to get himself into the film. If that's the case, I guess I'm happy he went with that approach rather than casting himself in a small onscreen role. Tarantino is a wonderful writer and director, but an absolutely terrible actor. His work in Django Unchained is easily the worst part of that film and I was happy not to see him in The Hateful Eight.
Compared to Tarantino's other films, I think The Hateful Eight lands somewhere in the middle, but again I'm a huge fan and really like or love all but one of his features. It's not quite as good as Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, or Jackie Brown, but is on par with Django Unchained, and I liked it more than either of the Kill Bill films, Inglourious Basterds, and certainly more than Death Proof.
If you're a fan of Tarantino's, I'd highly recommend seeing The Hateful Eight. If you're just a fan of westerns or action comedies, and don't mind excessive violence, gore, and language, I'd also recommend checking it out.
We're coming up on award season and if the Academy Awards reflect my opinions at all, The Hateful Eight will receive numerous nominations - including Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Goggins), and Supporting Actress (Leigh). Tarantino has a long history with the Academy and has won two awards for his screenplays, but has yet to win either Best Picture or Best Director. I have a feeling that won't change this year, The Hateful Eight doesn't seem to have much awards traction, but if it did, I'd be a happy fan.