The Hateful Eight (2015)

The Hateful Eight (2015) movie poster

director Quentin Tarantino
viewed: 12/31/2015 at Century San Francisco Centre 9 and XD, SF, CA

The latest film from pop auteur Quentin Tarantino, shot and notably projected in special occasions in 70mm, is his second Western in a row.  After his slave revenge film, Django Unchained (2012), something about the genre must have stuck with him, long as his films gestate, and he turns out a very different film, but as very typical of Tarantino, a very entertaining one as well.

In many ways, The Hateful Eight is the writer-director at the top of his game, weaving a story of eight (or more) villains stuck in an isolated cabin in a blizzard in the nowheres of Wyoming, each with their own set of backstories (or lies, but stories nonetheless), giving them ample reason to suspect that everyone else wants to kill them.

Kurt Russell is “The Hangman”, a bounty hunter with a filthy, mouthy Daisy Domergue in tow (a spectacular Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman with a $10,000 bounty on her head.  And Russell’s Hangman is known to “bring ’em back alive” even if that is not necessary, because he likes to see ’em hung.  Their stagecoach encounters Major Marquis Warren (Tarantino go-to Samuel L. Jackson) with a pile of dead bodies he’s bountied up, followed by running into another feller, Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins) who claims to be the newly hired Sheriff of the town of Red Rock, to which they are heading.

Jackson and Tarantino were made for one another.  He delivers Tarantino’s dialog better than anyone, and Tarantino gives Jackson the roles and opportunities that have turned him into such a major star over the past 20 years.

At 3 hours in epic length, the film if anything, seems to be quite simply about “storytelling”.  It’s a complex set of events and backstories that sets the characters on the stage of the cabin, unfolding in six titled chapters, zipping back and forth at times in unfolding, populated with many a dialog of reveal of a character’s past, true or untrue, uncovering motivations, acted upon or not.

And so, when suddenly in Chapter Four: “Domergue’s Got a Secret,” a voice-over narrator pops in to tell the audience something that Tarantino has chosen not to “show” us, it’s of course Tarantino himself.  Hey, it’s his movie, of course he’s going to be the narrator if there is a narrator.  He’s got to insinuate himself in there somehow.

Tarantino’s idea, which he told Deadline.com was to put “‘a bunch of nefarious guys… together in a room with a blizzard outside, give them guns, and see what happens’ ” is constructed tightly and cleverly.  It may be 3 hours long but he snares the viewer early on and his storytelling prowess is flowing freely.  But in a Tarantino picture, you put a “bunch of guys in a room and see what happens” you know what is going to happen: everybody is going to get shot.

As much as I looked for deeper meanings in the text, the only things that stood out was one when Jackson says, as he takes a gun from somebody that “a black man only feels safe when white men are disarmed,” followed perhaps by the title of the sixth and final chapter “Black Man, White Hell”.  I considered if there was some underlying meaning being laid out here, especially with Tarantino’s recent involvement in police protests, but I’m not sure that it’s the biggest point of the film at all.

I keep coming back to Tarantino as narrator, Tarantino as storyteller, and really, that’s where the film sings.  Now, that said, Tarantino loves his own storytelling voice so much that his voice comes through in many of the stories being told, through many of the voices telling the stories, even Jackson’s.  And that is perhaps Tarantino’s great weakness: his admiration for his own skills as a writer and director (and at times actor).

The Hateful Eight is very good entertainment, a great time at the cinema.  If you’re lucky enough to see it on 70mm, I hear that is the way to go.  Unfortunately, I wound up seeing it digitally projected (whatever).  It has its flaws and short-comings, some of them perhaps deeper than others.  But I enjoyed it.  And I’ll look forward to his next film, whatever he does.

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