Film Colony/The Weinstein Company
Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography by Robert Richardson
Produced by Richard N. Gladstein/Shannon McIntosh/Stacey Sher
I frequently get into arguments with people who tell me that in order for them to enjoy a book or movie or TV show they have to be able to like or relate to the characters. And that’s fine. Me, I’d rather understand their motivations. I don’t give a penguin’s pizzle about liking the characters or relating to them. I want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing. And I don’t need to like them either. In fact, most of my favorite movies, TV shows and books have thoroughly unlikeable lead characters. I even wrote two novels where every single character was rotten right through to the core just to see if I could do it and still have readers enjoy the books. So it should be no surprise that I enjoyed THE HATEFUL EIGHT even though every single one of the main characters is just that: hateful. Ah, but I understood why they were so hateful and that was enough for me.
A few years after The Civil War, bounty hunter John Ruth aka “The Hangman” (Kurt Russell) is transporting the outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by stagecoach to the town of Red Rock for execution. Along the way he picks up another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. Seeing as how the stagecoach is barely staying ahead of a monster blizzard, Ruth is naturally suspicious as how two men could just be wandering around in a snowy wasteland. But Ruth lets them ride along. The stagecoach driver, O.B. Jackson (James Parks) insists that they cannot outrun the blizzard and so must hold up for a couple of days at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach waystation.
Upon reaching the waystation, the travelers find quite the motely bunch already occupies it. Bob (Demian Bichir) is a Mexican who claims that the owner left him in charge of the establishment while she’s away. Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) is an effeminate Englishman who claims to be Red Rock’s hangman. Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) is a cowpuncher on his way to visit his mother to share the financial windfall that befell him after a very successful cattle drive.
Retired Confederate General Sandford Smithers (Bruce Dern) is on a pilgrimage to place a tombstone on the ceremonial grave of his son. Over the course of the next three hours we’ll find out that none of these characters are quite what they represent themselves to be. And hanging over all of them is the growing suspicion John Ruth has that one or more of them are part of Daisy Domergue’s gang, just waiting for an opportunity to help her escape. Preferably by killing all the others.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT is as far from QT’s previous Western; “Django Unchained” as Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is from the 1966 “Batman.” The entire first half is all set up and characterization. There’s considerable time spent on the antagonism between Marquis Warren and Chris Mannix as they fought on opposite sides of The War Between The States and there’s still a lot of unresolved feeling going on there. John Ruth has an unreasonable hatred for Daisy and takes every opportunity he can to physically and verbally abuse her. Then we get to Minnie’s Haberdashery and believe it or not, the movie takes a left turn and becomes a murder mystery. The characters are trapped inside by the blizzard and no one can be trusted.
You’d think that since practically the entire second half of the movie is indoors, the movie would feel claustrophobic but such is not the case. Thanks to the spectacular cinematography of Robert Richardson who used Panavision anamorphic lenses to film in Ultra Panavision 70, the interior of Minnie’s Haberdashery becomes a character in its own right and the movie actually starts to feel like and take on the characteristics of a filmed stage play. If you have a chance to see The Roadshow Version in Cinerama then by all means do so. It’s hard to explain and I don’t pretend to be an expert in this but there absolutely is a difference in the viewing experience. There’s an entirely different texture to the images on the screen. Especially in the outdoor scenes that dominate the first half of the movie and will knock your eyes out. Whatever else may be said about THE HATEFUL EIGHT, there’s little doubt that’s it one of the most lushly beautiful movies of recent years.
But you want to know about the story. Let me say this: it takes it’s time to unfold. Tarantino is not interested in rushing to the revelations about the characters and the resolution of their various fates. If you’re not a patient person then THE HATEFUL EIGHT is not for you. And yes, the movie is stuffed with Tarantino dialog. Which I don’t mind. I appreciate movies where characters have in-depth conversations and actually talk to each other instead of at each other.
I will advise you that the violence in THE HATEFUL EIGHT is hideously brutal and for a Tarantino movie that’s saying a lot. The second half is where the blood starts flowing. Did I say flowing? Gushing is more accurate. Remember how Tim Roth spent most of “Reservoir Dogs” rolling around in a lake of his own blood? At one point in THE HATEFUL EIGHT there’s three or four characters doing the same thing all at the same time. And the language is just as brutal as the violence. And yes, The “N” word is used freely by just about every cast member so if you’re sensitive about that, I suggest you give this one a pass.
For my money, Jennifer Jason Leigh walks away with the MVP crown for this movie. When we first see her she’s got a beauty of a black eye. The nearly constant barrage of violence heaped upon her is used for sometimes comical relief and by the end of the movie she’s just about covered in blood from head to toe. This couldn’t have been an easy movie for her to do but she hangs in there and is easily the equal of her male co-stars. Walton Goggins is also a standout and if you’ve followed his career on the small screen, from “The Shield” to “Justified” to his scene stealing guest-starring role as transgender prostitute Venus Van Damme on “Sons of Anarchy” then you will be pleased to know that his small screen star power translates very well indeed to the big screen.
In fact, the one acting disappointment came from the one guy (besides Sam Jackson) who I figured would have been a stand-out considering his experience working with Tarantino. Tim Roth appears to be doing a Christoph Waltz imitation, from his makeup to his body language to the meticulous way he enunciates and verbalizes. It was actually distracting for me as he doesn’t do a very good Christoph Waltz at all.
So should you see THE HATEFUL EIGHT? If you’re a confirmed Quentin Tarantino fan like Your Humble Servant then you probably have. If you’re not a Quentin Tarantino fan then this won’t change your mind about him or his movies. But for me, THE HATEFUL EIGHT has everything going for it: magnificent photography, excellent music provided by none other than Ennio Morricone and outstanding performances. All you have to do is bring the testicular fortitude to want to spend three hours with eight thoroughly murderous and despicable characters that even their own mothers couldn’t love.