The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight posterHeading into the film billed as ‘The 8th Film From Quentin Tarantino’ it was inevitable that a lot of questions would be floating around The Hateful Eight. While I have enjoyed all his movies, its hard to argue that he peaked way back in 1994 with Pulp Fiction and, with this coming with the extra added bonus/burden of being shot and screened in 70mm Ultra Panavision/Cinerama and in a so-called ‘roadshow’ format.

Of course, not all screenings feature the ‘roadshow’ edition with the 70mm projection, not many cinemas are equipped to deal with such, but either way, I couldn’t help but wonder if all of this paraphernalia might be designed to distract from what was actually on screen.

That said, as I headed into the Odeon Leicester Square’s huge ‘Premier’ screen, it was hard not to feel a sense of anticipation. This was only further heightened as the lights dimmed and the vintage, stylised image of snow-capped mountains and a stage-coach, along with the word ‘Overture’, appeared on screen and Ennio Morricone’s specially written intro music blared from the speakers.

After some typically Tarantino opening titles that set the stage of this being not only an attempt at evoking elements of Leone’s ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ but also Tarantino’s own big budget exploitation movies, we get some genuinely fantastic snow-covered vistas introducing us to the semi-mythical winter mountains where we will spend the next three hours.

Kurt Russell and Samuel L Jackson in The Hateful Eight
Russell and Jackson

As the name suggests the main body of the cast is something of an ensemble, but it is the first two major players we meet who really lead the pack, in the form of Major Marquis Warren, aka The Bounty Hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and John Ruth, aka The Hangman (Kurt Russell).

As soon as these two begin their discussions its clear that, while the settings may change, there’s no mistaking Tarantino’s unique dialogue and we are firmly in his universe once more.

As we meet Daisy Domergue, aka The Prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Chris Mannix, aka The Sheriff (Walton Goggins) more of the Tarantinoisms come to light with the typical controversial language and a particularly nasty streak of violence directed at Domergue. Coming from one of the characters who seems to be the movie’s hero these are shocking and brutal, though as the film continues and we realise the title certainly holds true, and the violence is, at least, in keeping with the character and some level of comeuppance is had.

Tim Roth, Kurt Russel and Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight
Roth, Russell and Leigh

Following some more impressive landscapes we arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery where we meet the rest of the titular cast and, thanks to a convenient blizzard, all are marooned on their journey and things take on something of the feel of a period set Reservoir Dogs with the players stuck in kind of limbo.

It’s while at the Haberdashery that the ingenious use of the 70mm format really comes into play as we are constantly aware of the finite confines of the location that really helps in building the pervading sense of isolation and paranoia needed to drive the plot.

As the paranoia and uncertainties pile up Jackson really takes the lead and is hugely impressive. He manages to do what many struggle with in taking Tarantino’s cartoonish characters and dialogue and imbuing them with a real genuine presence that here plays on ideas of racial tension (somewhat fitting for current real world political events, though that feels coincidental) as well as building a kind of analytical streak for the character that really pays off as the film goes on.

Tim Roth and Walton Goggins in The Hateful Eight
Roth and Goggins

In the roadshow edition an intermission cuts the action on a real cliffhanger and, along with the overture, added to the sense of this being something special and a cinema event like few others.

15 minutes later, following another mini-overture to get us back in the right mood, we get a recap voiced in knowing style by Tarantino that reveals a fairly major plot point and I’m interested to see the movie in a more standard screening to see how this is dealt with without the intermission.

With the paranoia and tension suitably elevated things descend into a fairly typical Tarantino style Grand Guignol Danse Macabre. Every time I thought it might become predictable some twist or other came to play and it managed to balance this to lead to satisfying dénouement that lived up to the title’s suggestions excellently.

Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight
Samuel L. Jackson

While surrounded by much pomp and circumstance The Hateful Eight is just what you’d expect it to be from Tarantino as it plays with cinematic cliché and convention with a rich seam of knowing exploitation and controversy baiting violence and language.

Along with that Jackson and Russell steal the show while all the other members play their parts in solid fashion with Goggins and Tim Roth as other standouts in that regard.

In all though it once again feels like simply just another Quentin Tarantino film with him almost playing to his own reputation rather than building on it. So, while enjoyable and in places technically impressive, its falls short of his best, but I’d say stands strong alongside Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained and Reservoir Dogs in his second tier of films.

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