The problem with being a cinephile that also reviews films is that you have such a wide variety of directors that you absolutely adore, and in each review of a film by them, they are suddenly your favorite director, and the one you consider the best working at that time. In the past, I have applied this to a variety of people, such as Mike Leigh, Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, Werner Herzog – the list can go on. However, there are two names that stand out as my all-time, rain-or-shine favorite directors. The first is Paul Thomas Anderson, and the other is Quentin Tarantino, a filmmaker I have admired since I saw Pulp Fiction in my early teen years. Since then, it has been a long and exciting journey, as Tarantino is one of the few filmmakers working today that cares about making an exciting, original film way more than making a film that has a good box-office, and because of this dedication to his craft, his films have an automatically built-in fanbase that will pay to see his films not once, but several times, and I am proud to call myself a leading member of that group of Tarantino devotees (to prove my point – look at the name of my film review blog – it was Django Unchained that made me take the plunge to actually attempt to start writing reviews). However, I must say that while I did enjoy Django Unchained, I was somewhat disappointed by it, as it was overlong and I felt it drifted too far from its remarkable first act. I was worried when Tarantino announced he would be writing another Western, because Django Unchained was a bit too meandering for my taste. The mixed reception to The Hateful Eight didn’t do much to calm my nerves and to make me enthusiastic for the film, even though I adore Quentin Tarantino. However, I do have to say that I went in with low expectations, and left with the highest euphoria. The Hateful Eight could quite possibly be one of Tarantino’s best films, but when your entire filmography consists of varying degrees of masterpieces, it can be applied to all of his films. However, The Hateful Eight is absolutely fantastic.
Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker that makes extraordinary films, but he does rely on a set bag of tricks – recently, his films have all teetered on being about revenge – starting roughly with Jackie Brown, and then going full-force into the revenge storyline with the beautifully violent Kill Bill Vol. 1 and dialogue-driven Kill Bill Vol. 2, and then in his exploitation horror tribute Deathproof, and of course with his masterpiece, Inglorious Basterds, which saw Brad Pitt sport a hilarious accent and go after Nazis. He capped it off with Django Unchained, which was more divisive than anything else. Even a longtime fan like I can admit that Tarantino did rely far too much on setting his characters off on gloriously violent adventures of revenge, and while it worked wonderfully in Kill Bill, it started to lose a bit of steam over the years. It then goes without saying that The Hateful Eight, which still has an element of a revenge plot in it, but it is not the driving force, is a breath of absolute fresh air. It honestly feels as if Tarantino was remaking his masterpiece, Reservoir Dogs as a Western rather than as a crime thriller. Considering how disappointed I was with Django Unchained, it was heartbreakingly wonderful to see Tarantino back on form, trying something very new – and The Hateful Eight is a wonderful film precisely because of the fact that it shows Tarantino trying new ideas and storylines, while still retaining the elements that we love about a Quentin Tarantino film, which will be discussed throughout this review.
Now we need to discuss the elephant in the room regarding Tarantino’s films, and any fan of Tarantino will have to deal with this very annoying bit of criticism from the general public far too often – violence. Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker who makes extraordinarily violent films, with every one of his films from Reservoir Dogs to The Hateful Eight being filled with spectacular violence that borders on excessive. This is not a contentious point, and everyone can agree that his films are truly very violent. However, the problem is when people imply two radical points – the first being that Tarantino cannot make a film without violence, and the second is that he condones violence and gets some sadistic pleasure out of it. The Hateful Eight proves both of those points wrong. Now if you have ever seen an interview with Quentin Tarantino, at some point, the topic of violence is brought up, whether as praise or criticism, by the interviewer. Tarantino has frequently stated that he himself finds violence in society deplorable, but it does exist, and he wants to show violence in his films in the same way other filmmakers show nudity or foul language (which he also has a penchant for using), as an artistic expression. Tarantino never shows an honest, good character using violence for malicious issues, and while it is true that all of his protagonists have shed blood of others, it is clear that he uses violence as a tool for what those characters feel is necessary. Here is why The Hateful Eight overbears the argument that Tarantino can’t make a film without violence – the first bit of major violence occurs only in the second act, about halfway through the film, maybe even just over halfway – and considering this is a three-hour film, it takes about the entire length of Reservoir Dogs for the first bit of grotesque violence to occur. No one was more surprised than me at this, because the first half of The Hateful Eight is intense, filled with introductions to the ensemble cast, and while a punch or two is thrown around, there is very little violence in the first act – yet it is as compelling as any other Tarantino film, because he created truly wonderful character development, and his writing was amazingly strong, and he has such a talent for creating suspense and intrigue, and allowing his characters to be unique and interesting individuals that contribute to a larger ensemble effort, the violence is only a cinematic tool that is one of many in Quentin Tarantino’s box of tricks.
Over the years, we have seen many film stylists that make their films look absolutely stunning, but many such filmmakers find their films being very much style over substance, and there have been many times where I have both marveled at the beauty of a specific film, and cringed at the story and writing. It is very tricky to find the perfect balance between the script and film, and many directors find it difficult to write a script that matches their vision for the film in their head, and also to find a way to reflect what is in their head on the final product. One can’t deny that finding that perfect balance is not easy, yet Tarantino has frequently done it, and perhaps never better than here. All of his films are well-written, and also incredibly stylish and filled with rich visual detail. However, The Hateful Eight is his most hauntingly beautiful film. From the snowscapes of Wyoming in the winter to the claustrophobic intensity of Minnie’s Haberdashery, where the vast majority of this film takes place, The Hateful Eight is shockingly well-made. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that Tarantino took a huge risk by filming and presenting this film in 70mm, which was a risk that absolutely paid of, because if there is a better looking film this year, I have yet to see it. The production design and cinematography, along with the editing come together to create a haunting and beautiful film that could stand as Tarantino’s most well-made, in terms of visual appeal. I would definitely say the style of Django Unchained is a huge competitor to the title of Tarantino’s most beautiful film, but for the pure fact that Tarantino manages to make a film that is essentially set in a singe room one of the most thrilling, compelling films of the year, not only because of his fantastic script, but also due to the fact that he and his crew took enormous risks to make the film he imagined, how he intended to make it. Tarantino’s passion shines through on each of his films, and very few filmmakers are as passionate about their art as Tarantino is, and The Hateful Eight is absolutely breathtaking.
Quentin Tarantino is such a brilliant writer, and his films are filled with dazzling dialogue, and it is clear that he doesn’t only have an eye for visuals, but a head for great writing as well. He sees screenwriting as a form of poetry, and when your entire career has consisted of creating memorable characters and iconic quotes that still exist in society today, it is difficult to not be seen as some form of screenwriting genius. Tarantino has the potential to be the best writer-director working today, and when you consider some of the people who are considered the greatest directors of their generation – Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock – were nearly always just directors that never wrote the material they directed, it proves that Tarantino will end up being firmly in the ranks of the pantheon of great filmmakers, because he was in complete control of his films, from the very inception of the idea to the final product given to the general public. It only helps that Tarantino writes beautifully, and even the most racist, horrendous conversations have some form of offbeat poetry to them – much like violence, Tarantino’s use of racist language is not glorified to encourage use of it, but rather to discourage the use of it, as the audience would rather not be seen in the same way as these deplorable, hateful villains. The Hateful Eight is just another great script by a fantastic writer-director that will certainly go down as one of his very best, and far better than his script for Django Unchained, which he won several awards for (and deservedly so!).
Of course, what is a Quentin Tarantino film without the actors? Tarantino is responsible for reigniting the careers of John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Pam Grier and Kurt Russell (who he worked with here), along with shining lights on new talents such as Uma Thurman and one of the greatest cinematic discoveries of all time, Christoph Waltz. He manages to assemble a group of actors in each of his films that perfectly understand the cadences and details of Tarantino’s work, and how to interpret his stories and to develop their characters in the way Tarantino imagines them. In his two previous films – Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained – both had large ensemble casts with dozens of actors in a variety of speaking and non-speaking roles. The Hateful Eight is essentially comprised of less than a dozen actors, and the core eight (technically nine) characters are the driving force behind the film. This allows Tarantino to give attention to each and every one of the characters, and to develop them properly and to give them their own unique characterization. Samuel L. Jackson (who has worked with Tarantino on all but two occasions) gives possibly his best performance here as Major Marquis Warren, a sly and shifty bounty hunter who is far more intelligent than characters would lead one to believe. Kurt Russell does his best John Wayne impression as the honorable bounty hunter set to bring a vicious woman to justice. That vicious woman is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, a great actress that is having a fantastic year with this and Anomalisa. Jennifer Jason Leigh is absolutely wonderful as Daisy Domergue, a vicious, murdering woman caught by Russell’s character and is on her way to be hanged in Red Rock. I won’t spoil the film for you, but Leigh is absolutely amazing, and her performance in the final act is one of the strongest female roles in a Tarantino film, and she is absolutely malicious and wonderful as Daisy.
The greatest performance in this film comes from Walton Goggins, who is absolutely amazing as Chris Mannix. I’ve always thought that Goggins was very talented as Boyd Crowder on Justified, but I hadn’t considered the fact that he could be so good in a film like this, especially with more established actors. His performance is exactly what made Christoph Waltz’s performance in Inglorious Basterds so magnificent – it was funny, cold and compelling. Goggins had a small role in Django Unchained, and Tarantino clearly saw something in him there. Other great performances come from Tim Roth, who reunites with Tarantino for the first time in over twenty years, when Tarantino directed him memorably in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. He plays the role clearly written for Christoph Waltz as the grinning, sinister hangman. Bruce Dern is a cinematic legend, and Tarantino knows this, hence why all that Dern does is sit in his chair and occasionally shout. The role didn’t require him to do much other than just be Bruce Dern, which was good enough for Tarantino. It isn’t an underwritten role, it is just essentially what the role requires. However, Michael Madsen gives a strangely terrible performance as Joe Gage, a pretty useless character that doesn’t contribute to the story at all, and a better role could’ve been written. Demián Bichir also doesn’t seem to know what he is doing here, and I can’t figure out if his acting style is really so forced or if he was meant to act this way. Either way, it is a very strong, interesting cast, and there are a few surprises tucked in, which I won’t spoil here, but they are worth it.
The Hateful Eight continues Tarantino’s streak of using music brilliantly. He didn’t spare any cost with Django Unchained to bring the man who influenced film music for generations on board – Ennio Morricone. Proving the insatiable charm of Tarantino, Morricone returned to score The Hateful Eight fully, after promising to never worth with the director again after their difficult collaboration on Django Unchained. Morricone’s score of The Hateful Eight is shockingly great, and reminiscent of his previous iconic work in classic films from decades ago. It seems like Tarantino has always wanted to work with his idols, and his status as a filmmaker has allowed him to recruit many of the people he idolized and admired while working as a struggling screenwriter years ago. The score of The Hateful Eight is not as filled with pre-existing films quite like his previous films, which is an interesting approach, but not necessarily a bad one.
The Hateful Eight is a fantastic film. It continues Tarantino’s streak of beautiful, excessive and wonderful stories of violence and revenge, and shows his talent for characterization. It is not his best film, but it is certainly amongst his best, and with a cast this brilliant, and a story this powerful and unique, it is impossible for The Hateful Eight to not be a notable film. There are lovers and haters of this film, and I can see both sides of the case for and against The Hateful Eight, but I am firmly a lover of this film, and hopefully any Tarantino fan will love it as much as I did. There are still a few films I need to see before I can officially say so, but I do believe that this is one of the best films of the year, and if all else fails, it could possibly be the very best. Another great film from a great and brilliant filmmaker.