Early on in “The Hateful Eight,” John Ruth (Kurt Russell) keeps repeating the line “slow like molasses.” Later on, another character informs his gang that their mission is going to take patience.
This describes “The Hateful Eight” well, too: It deserves your patience.
“The Hateful Eight,” the latest film by Quentin Tarantino, shows the very odd path that one of the greatest living filmmakers has decided to take. While many directors start out conventional and then experiment once they have clout, Tarantino has abandoned much of the nonlinear storytelling on which he made his name (with “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”) for something more traditional.
But when Tarantino does traditional, he does it on his own terms.
“The Hateful Eight” takes place in the Wild West not long after the Civil War. Union veteran Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is picked up by a stagecoach carrying Kurt Russell’s bounty hunter Ruth, who is transporting the wildly unpredictable Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to stand trial. During a harsh Wyoming blizzard, the three of them get stranded in a nearby cabin.
There’s no doubt that “The Hateful Eight” is epic — from the gorgeous 70 mm photography to the stunning mountain vistas, it demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible. But it really only has one or two locations. It’s one of the most intimate epics I’ve ever seen, which allows Tarantino to focus on the characters even more than the visuals. Seriously, this could have been a play and it would have been just as good.
“The Hateful Eight” boasts a perfect ensemble. From Bruce Dern to Tim Roth, the actors make Tarantino’s layered dialogue truly sing. Meanwhile, Leigh, who spends a majority of the movie covered in blood like some outlaw version of Carrie, sometimes feels like the villain and other times like the hero. You kind of want to root for everybody in the cast at certain times, even though they are all terrible people in their own unique ways.
The actors mitigate some flaws in the script. Yes, Tarantino likes to keep us waiting, but the first act feels more like stalling than buildup. Tarantino is exploring new territory, and sure, the Wyoming landscape looks stunning, but it isn’t until the characters are together that the film kicks off.
Once it does, there’s plenty of brilliance to go around.
Tarantino is a skilled manipulator who can fill the viewer with many contradictory emotions. There are a few spurts of violence here that caused me to burst into uncontrollable laughter, while others in the audience weren’t sure how to feel. Tarantino doesn’t go for the big emotional gut punch; he goes for confusion and ambiguity instead. Thanks to a creepy piano in the background, as well as Ennio Morricone’s fantastic score, certain scenes are brimming with tension even without the bloodshed.
In a way, Tarantino has been making Westerns his whole life, so it’s fitting that he’s doubled down on the genre. “The Hateful Eight” isn’t a comeback for Westerns (which didn’t exactly die), but it’s the most thoughtful entry in ages. Tarantino contrasts the harshness of nature with the brutality of mankind. “The Hateful Eight” is really about America trying to put together its pieces after the Civil War, and there are few better places to show that than in the wide-open frontier. In watching a group of people try to build civilisation out of savagery, “The Hateful Eight” is the most optimistic film the director has ever made.
This could also be Tarantino’s safest film yet, despite the many insanely violent outbursts. The small scale makes it feel like he’s returning to his roots. Some might accuse him of stealing from both himself and others, but Tarantino likes to use the familiar in order to lure you into something bold and different.
And sure, maybe the first half is a bit weaker than the second. But even after the first half ended, I knew that one viewing of “The Hateful Eight” would not be enough.
“The Hateful Eight” will be out in theatres on December 25, 2015.
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