The Hateful Eight, writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s eighth cinematic extravaganza, expands nationwide this week, already viewed by many diehard film fans in select theaters as a special 70mm roadshow presentation. Regardless how you view it, this one is bound to become one of QT’s most controversial films to date. And when you consider his oeuvre, that’s really saying something.
With The Hateful Eight Tarantino keeps things relatively simple, setting the story mostly in Minnie’s Haberdashery, during a Wyoming blizzard, secluding the action and mystery to a confined tense singular location. At its core, the film is an extended version of Reservoir Dogs final moments at the rendezvous warehouse, where lies upon lies are eventually exposed, the conclusion the only way these things and events like these can conclude – with a bloody showdown.
The film opens with bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his strong-spoken prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) traversing through the cold of Wyoming by wagon, manned by O.B Jackson (James Parks), while an impending blizzard on the horizon. Along their way, they run into Union soldier turned fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), himself on his way to deliver a few frozen corpses for bounty in Red Rock. The group, which now includes Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the supposed new sheriff of Red Rock, hope to avoid the storm as they head on down to Minnie’s Haberdashery for a little warmth and shelter.
There they find a mysterious group of men already settled in that include: Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir), British hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), long-haired and quiet Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). Quite a diverse collection of individuals taking shelter from the storm, though the namesake of Minnie’s Haberdashery is nowhere in sight, which prompts suspicion from Marquis.
The Hateful Eight is a methodical film, a slow-burning candle QT lights at his own pace as the thick aroma of deceit and confrontations build to their inevitable conclusions. The film plays like a perverse Agatha Christie mystery, one where nobody gets to leave until the mystery is solved, with every question unequivocally answered. From freewheeling use of the N-word to the less than savory language used against Domergue, which some have deemed misogynist, there’s a whole lotta talking and lots of intolerance to go around.
Conversation after conversation reveals the characters and their histories, but little actually in the way of action progresses the story over 90-minutes of what seems red herring full of jabbering. But suspicions rise, often without warning, and Marquis begins to unfold the mystery in his head, which means the cutaways and strange anomalies at the Haberdashery begin to make sense. At long last, the whodunnit we’ve been promised laboriously beings to unravel in a gnarled and complicated entanglement of allegiances and murder.
The audience benefits from remaining objective throughout; Tarantino never demonstrates much sympathy for any character and rightfully so, as they’re a rotten bunch. Therefore, when Marquis begins to piece together the mystery, the slow and laborious build-up makes perfect sense; which is great as the shocking conclusion couldn’t have gone any other way.
As an ensemble, the cast plays well together, but there are standouts. Samuel L. Jackson does fine work, but that’s expected whenever he’s matched to Tarantino’s always sharp and wordy dialogue. Special praise and attention must go to both Walton Goggins and Jennifer Jason Leigh for their performances as Mannix and Domergue, respectively. Mannix is a scene-stealer from beginning to end, as is Leigh’s racist Domergue, blessed with a mouth and mind as filthy as any of the other men that inhabit this little slice of hell in Wyoming.
There’s nothing nice in The Hateful Eight; here’s a film centered around a group of people, each despicable in their own unique ways and for their own reasons. To expect Tarantino, who stands by his prerogative, to inexplicably play nice in his eighth film with the word “hateful” in its title, would be wrong and amnesiac. Tarantino’s characters, and not just the nasty ones in this film, inhabit a world of honesty and violence, where people lack indecision and let their weapons do the talking more often than not.
Unsurprisingly, there’s already backlash for the copious use of both N and B-words, which, for some, automatically designate the film racist and misogynist. While there’s no denying the film’s characters are racist and misogynistic, labelling the film itself as such is misguided rationale that overlooks its obvious inclusive nature of its characters, a motley troupe which includes criminals ranging from white, black, brown, men and women.
Quentin Tarantino never struck me as a director with much to say about the world through his films, leaving larger geopolitics and social issues for cable news to squabble over. But maybe he’s hinting at something here. His films are a celebration of those type of films he himself loves watching – and making. His dialogue reflects the overt nature of pop-culture that pervades American society more than it’s influenced by any sense of historical authenticity. Behind all the geeky references and self-reflexivity, his films exist in a world where political correctness is often the last realistic option when violence runs amok.
What Tarantino has accomplished with The Hateful Eight is to uncover an uncomfortable past (and present) and put it square in a room for all to witness. Perhaps not historically, and maybe even accidentally, he’s managed to say quite a bit about the spoken word and its application to violence, both inescapable legacies of American history. But Tarantino hasn’t pulled from any history book to craft his macabre mystery, but from our cultural collective of film and television. And where do these mediums gain their mores and ideology? From the very history that helped shaped this nation, for better or worse; and sometimes both.