Now that the season’s biggest movie event is out of the way, put the kids to bed and prepare for the cinematic event that’s just for the grown ups.
Quentin Tarantino once again combines genres with The Hateful Eight, a clever, talky piece that inevitably ends in a bloodbath. After learning the ropes of the western with Django Unchained, we get a superior film with a contained plot, combining elements of Agatha Christie murder mysteries and John Carpenter thrillers with ’60s serialized western TV shows like The Virginian and Maverick.
The film begins with bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) escorting an abject prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as a severe blizzard nips at their stagecoach’s wheels. They soon encounter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a fellow bounty hunter in need of rescue from the pending storm. Ruth hesitantly takes him in and they are soon joined by a fourth, a man claiming he’s heading to Red Rock to take up his post as the town’s new Sheriff (Walton Goggins). The driver (James Parks) gets his four passengers to “Minnie’s Haberdashery” just in time, where they join four more mysterious men (Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Demian Bichir) to wait out the storm. While Ruth’s main concern is protecting his bounty from these strangers, other issues soon arise between those who fought on opposite sides in the country’s still recent Civil War. The rest of the film plays out like a chamber play as the pieces of how all these characters fit together fall into place one by one, and where all the chips fall is sure to surprise and entertain.
Tarantino initially began writing The Hateful Eight as a novel that would be about the further adventures of his Django character, then he realized that the story would work best if there were no moral centre. He changed Django’s character to Major Marquis Warren, voiding the story of any truly redeemable characters. He also took inspiration from the popular serialized western TV shows of the 50s and 60s. Often episodes of these shows would have a guest star who would remain ambiguous for most of the story, creating tension with their unclear intentions. Whether or not they were on the hero’s side usually wasn’t revealed until the third act. What Tarantino has done is placed nine of these characters in a room together with nowhere to go and no anchor for the audience to root for. Again Tarantino is manipulating classic narrative devices for a unique and thrilling experience.
But if there are nine characters stuck in Minnie’s Haberdashery, then why is the film called The Hateful Eight? I have several theories on this, most of which I can’t get into without spoiling anything. Spoiler-free theories include Tarantino just liking the way it sounded and the symmetry of this being “The 8th Film by Quentin Tarantino” (he takes every possible opportunity to remind us how many films he made), but mostly I think this will be a big conversation jumping-off point after the movie or even during the intermission for those who attend the slightly longer “Roadshow” version.
Speaking of the intermission, it’s one of several throwbacks that remind us what a night out at the cinema used to be about. The intermission makes the three hour running time much more palatable and makes it feel like something you should dress up for and make a night of. The story doesn’t require this bloated length, but it certainly gives it room to breath and enhances the overall experience. Much of it is superfluous, but you’re either along for the ride or you’re not. If you’re down, you won’t mind his indulgences in places. Tarantino has always been a little longwinded, but he still writes some of the best dialogue, and you always know he’s ultimately leading to something explosive. In this sense, despite being another western, Hateful Eight is more Reservoir Dogs than Django Unchained, which was much longer than it needed to be. This is a contained story where the timing and order in which we get certain pieces of the puzzle is meticulously plotted out, whereas Django just felt like a series of disconnected action scenes for 165 mins.
It’s also worth noting that this marks the first time Tarantino has had original music composed for a film. Known for populating his soundtracks with eclectic pop songs and music from other films, he always said if he was ever going to trust the soul of his movie to a composer, he’d have to make sure it was done right. Movie scores don’t get much better than Ennio Morricone’s, and even though Morricone had been critical of Tarantino’s cavalier use of music in the past, he agreed to write an original score for The Hateful Eight. Apparently there was a bit of a miscommunication between Tarantino and Morricone about when the score needed to be done by, but Morricone still ended up composing about 30 minutes of new music, including a theme, and divine providence stepped in for the rest. While discussing the influence of John Carpenter’s The Thing (both thrillers where Kurt Russell is snowbound with bleak prospects) for which Morricone also wrote the score, Morricone played some music he wrote for the film that Carpenter didn’t end up using. This became the rest of The Hateful Eight‘s “original” score and it couldn’t be more appropriate. Morricone’s music helps establish the more classical aesthetic Tarantino is presumably going for, yet he still can’t help himself from throwing in a White Stripes song.
The Hateful Eight is something only Quentin Tarantino could make. The idea may not be that original, but no one else has the clout or the confidence to pull it off on this scale. He refers to the cast as the “Tarantino All Stars” and while Russell, Leigh and Jackson are given a lot to work with, Roth and Madsen feel like they’re just there as Reservoir throwbacks.
This balls-to-the-wall flick serves as a good reminder that Star Wars isn’t the only reason to still make a night of going to the cinema.