Movie Review: The Hateful Eight
By Ben Gruchow
January 5, 2016
There’s something off about Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, and it sticks out at us from the moment the movie concludes its first hour until after the end credits roll: for the first time since 1994’s Pulp Fiction, there’s no protagonist to latch onto. This should be expected, in hindsight; when Tarantino described his original inspiration for the movie, it mostly added up to, “take all the bad guys from 1960s Western TV shows and make a movie about them.” It’s an entertaining idea - one done before, but original concepts aren’t something Tarantino has ever pretended to be tangentially interested in.
Still, it’s one thing to conceptualize a movie about the bad guys, and another to spend 167 minutes with them, even if those 167 minutes are spent in the context of some of the most gorgeous and expansive 70mm cinematography you could ask for. Why Tarantino went for such a gigantic resolution in a movie that largely takes place on a single set (and not a big one), I don’t know; I feel safe in knowing that it’s better to be given a beautiful film without understanding why than to be given a version of The Hateful Eight that was shot on HD video because it’d be cheaper. Tarantino has always been a visual filmmaker, and just about every frame of this effort pops.
One of the movie’s best images is also one of its first: Samuel L. Jackson, sitting atop a pile of frozen bodies, waiting in the middle of a road as a stagecoach approaches. There’s a storm approaching, and when the stagecoach stops, Tarantino gives us a closeup on Jackson’s weathered face as he lifts his head to take notice. It has been a long, long time since photography this detailed, this evocative and atmospheric, has been put in the service of a storyteller that’s as visually bold as Tarantino is. Other moments in the film have a similar impact; most of the action takes place in a combination bar and inn called Minnie’s Haberdashery during a furious blizzard, and in the few wide shots we’re given when the action moves outside, the sense of depth and scope is startling.
The story that takes place within these visuals is incongruously small and intimate. And mean-spirited, kind of, which is honestly pretty new in this director’s lexicon. The eight travelers snowbound in Minnie’s Haberdashery all have some kind of secret they’re concealing, to varying degrees. As the movie winds on and things get progressively consequential, we start to see the weather and its severity in a deterministic way. Our characters are here because they must be here, because it’s the only way their individual stories can come to any kind of conclusion. Tarantino has never been a filmmaker inclined to give his characters much in the way of free will, and the arrangement of the unfolding story in The Hateful Eight is immediately comprehensible as a series of pieces being moved around a board, into and out of position, by someone out of sight.