Movie Review: The Hateful Eight
R | 168 min
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
by Jason Koenigsberg
Quentin Tarantino’s newest film The Hateful Eight is a loving tribute to cinema in virtually every frame. The special 70 mm Roadshow presentation comes with a souvenir booklet and needs an actual projectionist to operate the film. The whole experience felt like a throwback to an earlier time in movies, never before have I seen a film skip both the previews and now standard commercials for an overture, nor have I seen a movie in the theaters that had an actual intermission.
The Hateful Eight has all of that along with retro logos for The Weinstein Company and Cinerama, making this movie feel more like an experience of watching a movie in the theaters during the 1960’s or ’70’s. The opening shots are of a cold, snow covered Wyoming landscape followed by some titles and then a shot of a snow covered Jesus on the cross as a wagon goes by in the background. The whole time this is going on it is accompanied by a haunting score composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone. This is the first western he has scored in forty years but his music for classic Spaghetti Westerns such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) are still iconic and among his most recognizable work.
From these opening moments we feel transported not necessarily back in time as much as we feel that we are transported into a Quentin Tarantino movie. Practically every shot is done with a love for cinema and the masters that inspired Tarantino. The Hateful Eight is filled with references to American history with conversations about a letter from Abraham Lincoln and Civil War battles as well as loving homages to classic cinema with beautiful wide shots and many classic two shots like Sergio Leone had in his westerns.
Like many Tarantino pictures, this is primarily a dialogue driven film. The script drives the plot and develops deep characters. As we meet the characters that become the titular eight we learn about their backstory, motivations and what drove them to this sleepy outpost in the middle of the wilderness to wait out a blizzard. As the snow comes down the audience begins to learn that none of these characters may be what they seem.
Tensions rise quickly as the sun sets on our characters in this cabin where most of the film takes place. There is a lot of deception among them and that really drives the story and creates an atmosphere of uneasiness mixed with humor where the audience will be waiting for the next clever line of dialogue to see what happens next and where Tarantino will take us.
The snowy setting and a grizzly Kurt Russell immediately recall John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and that is honestly the best way to describe The Hateful Eight, it is The Thing as a western instead of a sci-fi horror picture. Both require a cold, isolated atmosphere to create tension and both films involve betrayal from characters that may not be what they seem to be in a single claustrophobic setting.
The acting is very good for the most part. Samuel L. Jackson, once again gives a standout performance in a Tarantino film as a lone black man surrounded by bounty hunters, hangmen and criminals. He may be the moral compass, but other times might be more immoral than the unsavory people he is surrounded by. The other great performance in The Hateful Eight comes from the always reliable and criminally underrated Jennifer Jason Leigh as an outlaw being escorted by Kurt Russell’s bounty hunter to be hung for a reward of $10,000. She has never been nominated for an Oscar and I certainly hope the Academy acknowledges her work in the Best Supporting Actress category this year.
The weakest link is Tim Roth, another Tarantino alum from previous films who really feels that he is playing a part that was tailored for Christoph Waltz. Possibly due to script leaks, rewrites, and the fact that Waltz had a previous engagement to star as the main villain in this years James Bond movie Spectre, they shortened this role and gave it to Tim Roth. The Hateful Eight was good but it reminded me of the movie Clue (1985) in that these characters in this single location could have gone in a number of different directions and the outcomes could have been limitless.
The films other major shortcoming was that unlike Tarantino’s best films, The Hateful Eight offered nothing new from the usually inventive writer/director. It had a lot of scenes that recalled his earlier films, but nothing that would make The Hateful Eight stand out as an original or innovative Tarantino film. Also, the title is bad, for lack of a better word, since there are more than eight characters in the cabin at all times, I do not want to reveal which one(s) they do not count in the title, but there was no reason to neglect any of them. And I also think this film dealt more with fate than it did hate, so maybe ‘The Fateful’ followed by a different number would have been more appropriate. This movie felt like a play and might have worked better on stage rather than screen with actors taking turns giving long conversations while others stood in the background or on the side of the stage. The intermission, a first for me in a movie, really made the film seem like it should have been on broadway and not in a multiplex.
Despite those criticisms, The Hateful Eight is a very well written and directed movie that is worth the price of admission. It has a lot of long takes, some memorable performances and a dialogue driven script that takes a lot of twists and turns that will keep the audience entertained waiting for the next alliance change between the characters.