‘I’ ON CULTURE
Quentin Tarantino’s new film The Hateful Eight has more than eight victims, but I have to admit it that it is pretty hateful. Tarantino is a poet of extreme violence and nastiness, and all of that comes out in this very long movie. It is not for the politically correct crowd, and also not for anyone who lacks a strong stomach. There is no one to root for in the film; every one of the major characters is really hateful.
After a beautiful opening shot (Tarantino used Ultra Panavision lenses, which haven’t been used for 50 years) with appropriate stirring music from Ennio Morricone, who did the score for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (supposedly Tarantino’s favorite film), the action focuses closely on a handful of really nasty folks.
A stagecoach holds bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and a prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, pretty unrecognizable thanks to a black eye, horrid prosthetic teeth and bruises), who he is bringing to the town of Red Rock to be hanged for murder while he collects the $10,000 reward. They are flagged down by Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), another bounty hunter, who has three dead bodies with him.
Ruth, who has paid for the coach, allows him in because he knows him and also because Warren has a letter from Abraham Lincoln. The two men discuss the idea of “dead or alive,” with Warren pointing out it was so much easier with the targets dead, and Ruth obviously enjoying the idea of watching them hang. Whenever Daisy opens her mouth, Ruth smashes her in the face (most women will probably dislike this part of the film). They also meet up with Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), son and follower of a Confederate who led a small army that refused to accept the end of the Civil War. Since he is the sheriff of Red Rock, he says, and is the one who will pay both of them their bounties, they take him on board.
They eventually wind up in Minnie’s Haberdashery, a waystation, because of a blizzard. They meet a whole group of other nasties there: a shifty-looking cowboy (Michael Madsen); a stereotypical Mexican, “Bob” (Demián Bichir); a British hangman (Tim Roth); and a former Confederate general (Bruce Dern).
These characters meet, go through a round of curses, and then start killing each other. Warren has a particularly nasty, graphic description of how he humiliated and then killed the general’s son, and kills the man because he pulled a gun. There are a variety of other killings. To confuse matters more, Tarantino presents the film’s sequences out of order, so near the end, we all find out there are others involved, and the movie veers in another direction. The one thing we do find out is that some of those hateful folk will cooperate when it comes to killing.
The cast is pretty good. Jackson is the main force, and he clearly likes playing things really mean. Goggins tries to channel a young Jack Nicholson. Dern is typical Dern. Roth plays overly elegant until he stops and just gets nasty. Leigh is essentially unrecognizable, but gives a very good, nasty portrayal of a woman ready to manipulate anyone to get free. Tarantino is an expert director and knows how to get the most from each of his performers.
This is a very long movie, about three hours, and it never dragged. It has all the hallmarks of a Tarantino flick: lots of violence and plenty of dialogue. These characters are not the silent type. Everything has to be discussed and then rehashed. Names must be called, generally unpolitically correct ones. Just about none of the bad guys dies quickly. Unlike in most westerns, they are able to take time for a bit of philosophy before they go.
As I wrote earlier, this is a nasty movie. But it is also well-done for its type. Tarantino does have an over-fascination with death and with race relations, but he is a talented director. It is supposed to be a comedy, but I heard no laughter in the theater. You will not root for any of the characters; all are murderers. Yet it keeps going and keeps the audience’s attention. If you are a Tarantino fan and have a strong stomach, it might be for you. For others, be warned.