One of them fellas is not… what he says he is
Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Runtime: 168 minutes
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern,
Tarantino’s second western, coming next in line after “Django Unchained” (2012), brings together a lot of the familiar faces from the films of his past while adding in new faces as well. Played out almost like a western version of “Reservoir Dogs” (1992), “The Hateful Eight” takes place in an isolated cabin with more dialogue than action providing the vehicle for the story.
Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Demián Bichir, and Bruce Dern are eight strangers that take refuge from a blizzard in Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover, in 1870. In this, the American Civil War is over, and the west is still wild. The different players in the film all play characters with different background and ambitions. Among the is a Civil War veteran, a bounty hunter, a fugitive, a lost soul, a cowboy, an Englishman, a hangman, and a former Confederate General. As well as the isolation and the dialogue which drives the film, this crime thriller also provides an air of mystery to the location, intentions, and future – are they alone or could somebody find them in the isolated cabin?
The film all takes place within a 24-hour period, there are however flashbacks which ‘flesh out’ backstories and events. These are told as stories from the characters – well what else is there to do in the cabin when a blizzard hits? The use of storytelling and flashbacks within the time that is used is why to me the film felt a bit like “Reservoir Dogs”. The characters on show may not be archetypal good guys, but by all accounts, it is a fairly accurate reflection of some of the types of people you would likely have encountered at the time. Here though, they just happen to be all forced into a single location rather than encountering them over a longer period like is more likely. Because we know little about the people here it is difficult to tell if they are telling the truth or making up their own fabricated stories to survive in the situation, and that adds to the mystery being unraveled. My tip is, do not believe everything you are told unless you see it with your own eyes first.
Despite the isolation for most of the film I really enjoyed the cinematography on display. It is intimate, but in strange way it is also quite grand too. Tarantino once again worked with Robert Richardson, whom he had on cinematography on “Kill Bill”, “Inglourious Basterds“, and “Django Unchained“. Where the scenes are dirty, they are truly filthy. Where the scenes are snow covered, they look absolutely freezing. Where there is a fire and some warmth, the glow of the flame lights the visuals. Tarantino and Richardson do well with the mise-en-scène, colours, and the general set up of the scenes that the actors get to work in.
The acting throughout this film was top-notch. There are some great performances from all the talent on show, regardless of how big or small their part in this is. Because of the way it plays out it feels like this could have been done as a theatre show and much as it was a film. With the acting talent it is clear to see that they would be equally as powerful ‘treading the boardwalks’, as they are standing in front of the camera. It feels at time that Samuel L. Jackson provides the main focal point for the performance, but his role is no more important than say Jennifer Jason Leigh – who by the way shocked me with this role – Jackson though offers a more familiar narration that fools the audience into following him.
I really enjoyed the musical score in the film; it made it feel like a proper western film and somehow bigger than the isolation allowed. This has to be thanks to Ennio Morricone coming around to working on the film, despite previously claiming that he would never work with Tarantino. It was the first time in 34 years that Morricone had worked on a western film, since “Buddy Goes West” (1981) (which was a big hit in Germany when I was growing up). With the music there are some original scores, some ‘recycled’ from other films, and some that were unused from other films. There were, for example, at least 3 scores which were intended but never used in John Carpenters “The Thing” (1982), and one score which was previous used in “Exorcist II: The Heretic” (1977).
There was an element of racism in the film which made me feel slightly uncomfortable, and like his other films, earned Tarantino some hate online. I realise that it was intended to be more authentic for the age the film is set in, but how many times can the characters say the N word in a film (again)? Tarantino’s previous film “Django Unchained“ seemed to overuse it too but that could be forgiven as the underlying theme of the film dealt with the dark past of slavery. This film on the other hand did not seem to give a damn and was happy to overuse words to hammer home the offence. The pointless interracial homosexual oral rape scene was less offensive than some of the derogatory language used just because it could be used. It isn’t big and it’s not clever.
Like other Tarantino films this film is split into chapters – each which help the audience focus on key events which ultimately contribute towards the final climax of the movie. I understand that the chapters help control the narrative drive and timing of the film, but it feels a little like this trope is a little overdone now when you look at other Tarantino films. How dumb must an audience be if they don’t know how to interpret time and causality in the film?
I enjoyed it the first time I watched it. It certainly was not the absolute best western film I have seen, but it was good enough. It was like Tarantino wanted to do an updated western film for the modern audience who like good filming techniques, unexpected twists, swearing and (eventually in this) bloodshed. I know there is a vast army of Tarantino fans who really did not enjoy it – but that is fine right, everybody has an opinion.
While I generally enjoyed this film, I should perhaps add a few disclaimers:
- (1) Do not expect a complex plot – it is simple and straight forward, but it is professionally written still. It also takes a heck of long time to get to the point. Have I mentioned the almost 170-minute runtime?
- (2) Do not expect lots and lots of exciting and explosive action – there is some action, but it is more a dialogue driven film. It probably takes almost an hour and half for the first bit of action, so huddle up and get warm for now.
- (3) Do not expect likeable characters to root for – again, the title should allude to this, but it is “The Hateful Eight” for a reason…. 8 detestable people, it is not called “Eight Heroes”. If you find yourself rooting for the bad guy, you might just have fallen into Tarantino’s trap.
- (4) Do not watch this an expect to see a straightforward western film – sure, it is western themed, but it is no John Wayne or Clint Eastwood style film. If you are expecting to see Sergio Leone style roving landscapes or gun duels at high noon – wrong films, sorry.
- (5) Oh yeah, one final thing – do not expect a strong female source in the film like the Bride in “Kill Bill”, or Shosanna in “Inglourious Basterds“.