The Hateful Eight may be the year’s most accurate movie title. An exciting cast of Quentin Tarantino regulars and Jennifer Jason Leigh headline this film and they are colourful, memorable, vital and challenging but they are not to the very last one of them likeable. This may be the director’s most divisive film yet.
The plot begins with Bounty Hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) with his bounty Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) making his way via stagecoach to nearby Red Rock where Daisy is to hang for her crimes. Unable to outrun a snow blizzard he is hoping to make it to a lodge named Minnie’s Haberdashery in time to wait out the blizzard. Along the way they pick up another Bounty Hunter Major Marquis Warner (Samuel L. Jackson) with his own dead bounty and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who claims to be travelling to Red Rock to take up his newly appointed post as Sherriff of Red Rock. Mannix and Warner were on opposite sides of the Civil War so there is already tension in the air when Ruth agrees to take them both into his coach.
When they reach Minnie’s Haberdashery, there are a host of other characters in the form of Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir) running the lodge in Minnie’s absence, Oswaldo Mobray the Hangman (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) a cowboy and Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) a former Confederate General. At this point the story having been mostly confined to the interior of the wagon is now confined to the cabin while being shot in 70mm. While this may seem an indulgence on the part of Tarantino the larger lenses allows more detail to show up in the background and in the expressions of faces that might be hiding secrets. The inhabitants of the Minnie’s might be there to rescue Daisy or simply take her to collect the bounty on her head for themselves. The film plays like a murder mystery and audience members may enjoy paying attention to see reveals ahead of time but there is not much reward in it.
All of what people have grown to love about Tarantino is alive here, witty dialogue, cartoonish violence and shock value storytelling. Something has changed though. In the director’s previous efforts the victims of cruel retribution were white slave owners, Nazis and rapists. If a likeable protagonist was hurt it usually led to them exacting this furious vengeance. Here Jennifer Jason Leigh is repeatedly smashed in the face, her eyes blaze defiantly and we are told she is dangerous and a criminal but we are not shown it and I grew uncomfortable at the attempt to make humour out of being violent towards the only onscreen actress. There is more involving oral rape which may or may not have taken place but I suspect without providing a likeable protagonist carrying out extreme vengeance like previous Tarantino films did all the cruelty takes on a darker edge. That creates a challenge for the audience but Tarantino is being honest here, he didn’t title the film “The Hateful 7 and the Somewhat Justified 1”. I have seen some troubling nihilistic films in my day which I respected for their brutality and message. Tarantino has a message in this film and the message is that America was borne out of savagery, injustice and robbery. Yet the ideals that the country’s common folk coated themselves in like freedom, civilisation and brotherhood will ultimately project us forward closer to their fruition every year. We’re getting there and that is not a bad sentiment and it is not lacking in ambition to want to tell a stylish rather than realistic tale nevertheless rooted in these hard truths. For a more positive review on The Hateful Eight which I think makes good points please click here.
Samuel L. Jackson by the way is stone cold brilliant in this film, possibly the greatest character Quentin has ever written for him. Kurt Russell too comes in with his John Wayne cadence, hard demeanour and reveals both a viciousness and naivety we don’t get to often see from him. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays up the physical comedy of her character but like the rest of the cast there is a great deal that will be revealed throughout the course of the film. Walter Goggins might just get the biggest arc but I enjoyed Bruce Dern and Tim Roth just as much. One scene played as an introduction for a whole raft of new victims that seemed pointless until it became obvious that the scene showed the bonds of certain characters before tearing them apart.
I can’t fault a lot of Tarantino’s work here and I’m still of the opinion that Quentin Tarantino is one of the great filmmakers of my generation. However if this film is designed to enrage then the understated The Big Short and Spotlight are far more moving and thought provoking. If The Hateful Eight is not designed to enrage but to merely make fun of the absurdity of how cruel we are to each other well then I’m sorry Quentin, I get it but I’m not laughing.