The further Quentin Tarantino’s career progresses, the more fun he seems to be having in making his films. The Hateful Eight is the combination of everything he loves doing. It’s loud, bloody, full of monologues, darkly funny and beautifully shot. However, this gory western adventure has faults.
In wintry post-civil war Wyoming, Kurt Russel’s bounty hunter John Ruth “the hangman” is hightailing it in a six horse stagecoach to a lodge called Minnie’s Haberdashery. With him is Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a prisoner he is transporting to a nearby city. On this perilous voyage they are joined by Sam L Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren and Walton Goggins’ Chris Mannix. Warren, an officer-turned-bounty hunter sits next to Mannix, a prejudiced and newly appointed sheriff with a guffawing hillbilly accent. they travel through the snow to hunker down in Minnie’s haberdashery. However, Minnie’s Haberdashery is full of customers on this night.
Upon introduction to the lodge’s interior, the film becomes a cabin fever mystery straight out of an R rated Agatha Christie novel. A host of secretive characters are introduced, all hunkered down for the storm. Tim Roth’s preposterously English hangman, Senor Bob the Mexican caretaker, Bruce Dern’s racist former Confederate general and Michael Madsen’s lonely wanderer all welcome the travellers. However, Ruth is paranoid something is up. Guarding his precious prisoner, the night becomes one in which not all is as it seems.
Laced with 70mm filmed wide panoramas of snow covered hills and figures walking through its clean white appearance, this is indeed a film that looks pretty. It brings to mind obvious references to the cinematography of Sergio Leone’s films. There’s a daunting, ginormous feel to the landscape outside and sense of power given to nature.
To compliment these images, Morricone’s score thunders and booms away in the background, dwarfing other tracks Tarantino drops in from time to time.
And while it may sound like I’m ramping up to the mention of the word “masterpiece”, in actual fact I’m rather ambivalent to this new work. I admit I laughed a lot and basked in the spectacle of Wyoming in winter. However, I still find myself rather unsure about this adventure crime thriller. It’s mostly due to the sheer self-indulgence this project has been made with. Tarantino, although combining everything he loves in films, has made something almost entirely for himself. While it’s okay to embrace your own directorial style, he’s reached a point in his career where he seems to be enjoying himself far too much. The structure of his story is a little flabby and one would suspect the product of a man protective of long dialogue scenes and the odd lengthy, vitriolic monologue. That it takes around half an hour to get to Minnie’s Haberdashery is a suggestion of the length the director has made this film to – the film which he narrates at points.
There’s also a puzzling nature to what this film wants to be. Tarantino has always been a positively unique filmmaker. While he may dot around cinema history for inspiration, his creations have been inimitable pieces of contemporary fiction. For instance, while Kill Bill takes inspiration from Kurosawa’s samurai legacy, it is its own high paced creation. Again, Inglorious Basterds looks to films like The Dirty Dozen but remains its own. Even Django Unchained differs from Spaghetti Westerns in tackling the contentious issue of racism. Yet this is not the sense I get with The Hateful Eight. There seems to be very little attempt by Tarantino to innovate. Instead, It is a glaring homage to the Spaghetti Westerns, intent on replication of the style above everything else. The long opening credits scene done with that classic font, the note that it’s shot in Panavision 70mm, the relentless violence and the score by none other than Ennio Morricone turn this film into a weird beast. It smacks of being a love letter to the Spaghetti Western while at the same time being an exercise in self-indulgence. Tarantino seems to have become lost in his own filmmaking style of taking and changing.
There are some brilliant performances. Jennifer Jason Leigh is wickedly revolting, Tim Roth does a pompous accent, Kurt Russell heaves around with the elegance of a huge bear and Samuel L Jackson is as cool as ever. However, it’s a bizarre, disjointed creation that stinks of self-indulgence and is far too referential. It doesn’t feel the product of the genius Tarantino often is.