I just saw this movie yesterday, in a hall that was as expected, sparsely filled – not a hard thing to imagine with a relatively little publicised and nowhere near as popular by word-of-mouth Tarantino movie here in India.
We have our fans of the film-maker but not all that many.
SO! We come now to The Hateful Eight, the latest in a surprisingly not that long line of films by a film-maker that is more divisive than most who have his level of financial success. His eighth to be precise. But before we start with the reviewing, let’s just get the premise out of the way:
The Hateful Eight follows the steadily ratcheting tension that develops after a blizzard diverts a stagecoach from its route, and traps a pitiless and mistrustful group which includes a competing pair of bounty hunters, a renegade Confederate soldier, and a female prisoner in a saloon in the middle of nowhere.
Now the cast includes certain names that are long time staples or repeat performers like the gruff Michael Madsen and the scenery chewing Samuel L. Jackson. But this time around there’s a more interesting mix with the return of Tim Roth to one of his movies since his iconic role in the bloody magnificent Reservoir Dogs from way back in the day, there’s also the return to screen of Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern in a larger role than in Django Unchained (for example) – in addition to these more familiar names we have Jennifer Jason Leigh who is well known to some but not always to the more mainstream audience, Walter Goggins who usually gets smaller parts but can do a lot as anyone who has seen Justified on TV knows and Demián Bichir who is a well respected Mexican actor getting his most fun Hollywood role till date here.
Make no mistake, it was a pleasure watching them all go at it and in some cases exceptional. For me Goggins really outdid himself as the supposedlly former rebel Mannix, as does Jason Leigh as the crude and rude Daisy Domergue. Russell was a pleasure to watch after a long time as he really dug into the part, channeling Kris Kristofferson to the point where for a moment I almost forgot that it wasn’t in fact the country icon on screen. Tim Roth sadly didn’t get more screen-time to really go to town as the smarmy Englishman that he portrays (fair enough, the movie was long enough anyway) and Bichir was hilariously terse and provided some of the lightest moments throughout most of the movie. And of course there were Madsen and Jackson doing what they do best, being gruff and “ornery” and maintaining a deadly presence with the occassional scenery chomping respectively.
That rounds out your primary eight and of course there are small cameos from Channing Tatum, James Parks and Zoe Bell plus a few others, but the truth is that in the end they matter little before the powerful presence of the main EIGHT that everything revolves around.
The movie itself is simplistic in nature, almost play-like in the way it’s constructed. A stage-coach is travelling through the Wyoming snow, racing to stay ahead of a blizzard, when it encounters not one but two men on the road and after much entertaining repartee, cussing and a few hard shots to the head, ends up with the quartet gathered here reaching the shop/home that they will be stuck in until the blizzard passes. Once there, they find four others present and aside from a few early forays outside, once the storm has set in, so does every person there because that one big hall is their world now.
Except no one trusts anyone else and hidden agendas, lies, mistrust and guns can make for a somewhat unhealthy combination as you can imagine. Especially when in the hands of a bunch of hotheads. Throw in some bigotry thanks to the period of the movie being just after the American civil war and you have the makings of devastation!
BUT, before anyone gets any ideas, I will say – without revealing any plot points – that this is not a movie like Tarantino’s last two highly acclaimed and lauded outings. Unlike Inglorious Basterds and the super-hit Django Unchained, this movie doesn’t rely on immediate shock and awe and moments of exceptional violence to move things along.
Quite the contrary, it spends more time on character interaction and that’s where it gets interesting as you see people poking and prodding. You see people with secrets keeping them close, you see people provocation both intended and otherwise, you see moments dark and light between them and you can almost literally feel the tension in the air grow from moment to moment, despite the occassional laugh that the movie can’t help but draw forth.
All of this builds to a magnificently brutal crescendo worthy of a Tarantino movie, and so all those who like their blood and guts should be at ease that their expectations are not unmet by the time this tale is told.
What struck me most about this movie and what makes me say now that this might actually be in some ways the film-makers finest work, is what it is if you step back from it once you’re done. It’s a movie that if you get into it (and admittedly, not every person would as with most of his flicks), it engages your mind, draws you in and the nature of there being some underlying mystery as regards the titular Eight and their agendas and the truth of the stories they are telling about themselves, it all is excellently done.
At the end of this movie, I realised that Quentin Tarantino is a Pokemon. Plain and simple.
Why? Because most story-tellers evolve in the sense that they stumble and fall for a while and then find what you can call their “voice” and once they have that, then it’s all about staying in the groove and you’re good!
But Tarantino is one of those rare movie-makers who for a while had found his Voice post Reservoir Dogs with his witty, pulpy, noir-ish, character-driven, bloody style and that continued with his next couple of films. Except then he evolved again when he embraced something new with the two Kill Bill movies, each with a unique voice, followed by Inglorious which went in a different direction and dug into historical tales and then he mixed up that historical revisionist perspective with his love of Spaghetti Westerns and gave birth to the phenomenal Django Unchained that was hailed as his most mature effort ever. Until now that is.
Because with The Hateful Eight, he has taken things to a different level. Not a new place, just a new level of being himself. The movie has a closed room narrative with inherently despicable characters not unlike Reservoir Dogs, a lot of slowly unraveling story and connectivity and a with that hearkens back to Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, the more mature overtones and historical con/subtext that came with his last two movies and of course the signature violence that reached it’s high-mark with the disturbingly glorious bloodbath that was Kill Bill and has been fine-tuned in each successive movie.
For me this was all the above, thrown into a blender, strained and distilled beautifully – the result being a bloody brilliant movie that I will definitely be watching again and likely again and again over the years ahead.
A masterful piece from one of the most consistently unique voices in modern American movie-making.
If I had to, I might well rate this my favourite amongst his movies till date, with Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Django Unchained tying for second place.
If you can and are willing, I would HIGHLY recommend watching this while it remains in theatres – I know they made an utterly foolish mistake trying to release it at the same time as the Star Wars reboot and in the long run despite this being a superior cinematic production, in the short term it’s no match for the popularity and drawing power of the behemoth franchise.
So, as I stop my rambling, just remember this: It’s amazing, go watch it. Now.