The Hateful Eight (2015, Quentin Tarantino)

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Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists. Seriously, this is a very recent film with some big revelations so please only read on if you’ve seen it.

Eight (or so) people are trapped in a roadside cabin called Minnie’s Haberdashery during a blizzard – but not all are who they say they are…

What does QT do? Quentin Tarantino writes, directs and provides some narration. The film very nearly didn’t happen. Tarantino got the hump after his draft script was leaked online, but was eventually persuaded to carry on.

Notable characters:
* Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson) is a former army officer who fought with the North in the American Civil War, but he’s now a bounty hunter. Stranded in the snow, he talks his way onto a stagecoach – in part because he has a handwritten letter from the late Abraham Lincoln – and ends up in a cabin with some strangers. We later learn there’s a bounty on Warren’s head, thanks to him killing some prisoners during the war, and that he faked the letter as a way of ingratiating himself with people. It’s a grandstanding performance – big, theatrical and reliably entertaining in the Jacksonian tradition.
* OB (James Parks) is a stagecoach driver who’s been hired by…
* John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter who’s transporting his quarry, a woman called Daisy, across country. He routinely beats on her but wants her alive so he can see her hang. They also end up in the blizzard-bound cabin. Russell’s having fun with the larger-than-life Ruth.
* Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has a $10,000 reward on her head, hence Ruth’s eagerness to get her to the authorities. She’s a feral, foul-mouthed loose cannon of a character. Despite having an awful lot of standing-around-while-the-men-talk to do, Leigh’s punk-attitude performance is so strong it bagged her an Oscar nomination.
* Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) is on his way to the nearest town, Red Rock, to be sworn in as the new sheriff but also gets trapped at the cabin. The son of a Southern war hero, he’s a real shit-stirrer of a character.
* Bob aka Marco the Mexican (Demián Bichir) says he’s running Minnie’s Haberdashery in its owners’ absence… but in reality is one of Daisy’s gang, who have laid a trap for John Ruth.
* Oswaldo Mobray aka English Pete Hicox (Tim Roth) has a clipped accent and says he’s the new hangman in Red Rock – but is actually another of Daisy’s gang. It’s such an affected English accent, in fact, that it’s something of a relief when he reverts to his real voice, which is closer to the actor’s own.
* General Sandford Smithers (Bruce Dern) is a guest at the cabin when the others arrive. A batty old racist, he has a grudge against Warren even before he learns that Warren killed his son (or at least claims to have done as a taunt).
* Joe Gage aka Grouch Douglass (Michael Madsen) initially sits in the corner of the cabin not bothering anyone. He says he’s a cowpuncher on his way to visit his mother, but is another of Daisy’s compadres.
* A narrator (Quentin Tarantino) provides some exposition about 20 minutes of action we’ve skipped over, then returns in a flashback to explain the preparation Daisy’s friends did before the stagecoach arrived. Quentin reads the lines really well – crisply and with a sense of drama.
* Jody Domergue (Channing Tatum) has been hiding under the floorboards ever since Ruth, Warren, Mannix and Daisy arrived – he’s Daisy’s brother and along with Bob, Oswaldo and Joe is there to rescue her. It’s an audacious plot twist… which doesn’t really stack up. If Jody’s intention is to free Daisy and he doesn’t object to killing innocent people to do it, why wait so long to do it? Incidentally, the notion of previously unseen characters who have been eavesdropping on the action was also used in Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds.
* ‘Six-horse’ Judy (Zoe Bell) is a stagecoach driver who brings Jody and the boys to the cabin. She’s a perky, likeable woman from Auckland.
* Minnie Mink (Dana Gourrier), Gemma (Belinda Owino) and Sweet Dave (Gene Jones) run the cabin. Minnie and Dave are a couple.

Returning actors: Samuel L Jackson has his seventh role in a Tarantino-written film. Tim Roth plays his first Tarantino character in 20 years and fourth overall. Michael Madsen is also staring in a fourth QT film. Kurt Russell had been in Death Proof. Walton Goggins (Django Unchained), Bruce Dern (Django Unchained), James Parks (Kill Bill Vol. 1, Django Unchained) and Zoe Bell (Death Proof, Django Unchained) also crop up. As mentioned, Tarantino himself has a voice part.

Music: We get the first full-length, purpose-written score on a Tarantino-directed film – it’s by Ennio Morricone and is very effective. As Morricone ran out of time, though, some cues he wrote for The Thing (1982) and Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) have been reused. There are also a few songs by people such as The White Stripes and Roy Orbison. In the film, Bob plays Silent Night on the piano and Daisy plays 19th-century ballad Jim Jones at Botony Bay on the guitar. Daisy’s song led to a notorious incident on set. John Ruth was scripted to take the guitar off her and smash it to pieces. However, Kurt Russell accidentally did it when – instead of a prop replacement – a priceless 1870s Martin guitar was being used for the shot. You can see the take in the finished film. The look of shock and disbelief on Jennifer Jason Leigh’s face is genuine.

Time shifts and chapters: This is another Tarantino film divided into chapters with on-screen titles. This time there are six: ‘Last Stage to Red Rock’ (which lasts about 17 minutes), ‘Son of a Gun’ (12 minutes), ‘Minnie’s Haberdashery’ (58 minutes), Domergue’s Got a Secret’ (23 minutes), ‘The Four Passengers’ (20 minutes) and ‘Black Man, White Hell’ (22 minutes). The third features a brief flashback; the fourth rewinds in time to show us an earlier incident from a different point of view; while the penultimate section is set ‘Earlier that morning’. As is often the case with flashbacks that explain what’s *really* going on, The Four Passengers is a hoot.

Connections: The idea for The Hateful Eight began as what would have been Quentin Tarantino’s first novel – a continuation of Django Unchained called Django in White Hell. However, he felt the story didn’t really suit the central character, so he eventually retooled the idea as a movie script and Django was replaced by Major Marquis Warren. (This explains why Warren is a bounty hunter.) Additionally, Tim Roth’s Pete Hicox is intended to be the grandfather of Inglourious Basterds’s Archie Hicox. And now’s a good a time as any to mention Red Apple. It’s a fictional brand of cigarettes that’s mentioned in The Hateful Eight a couple of times and previously featured in Pulp Fiction, From Dusk Till Dawn, Four Rooms and Kill Bill.

Review: The Hateful Eight has the strangest opening of any Tarantino film. We start with big, empty, wintery landscape shots, which tell us we’re in a world of cold, harsh and wide-open spaces. (They also show off the gorgeous Ultra Panavision 70mm photography, which is by Robert Richardson and aches to be seen on a mammoth cinema screen.) One of the shots is a lingering look at a macabre carving of a man on a cross and lasts for 154 seconds. Add in Ennio Morricone’s stirring music and it’s all very BIG and EPIC. But this is a bum steer. Rather than a sweeping, Old-West blockbuster, this film is a character-driven chamber piece reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs. (The presence of Michael Madsen and Tim Roth only reinforces that feeling, of course.) Admittedly, it takes a while to get there. There’s fun dialogue and plot information in the film’s first half hour, but this extended prologue has come in for criticism. In a 160-minute movie, you can’t help feeling there could be a better way to start the story. (Maybe begin with Ruth and co arriving at the cabin, then present the earlier events in flashback?) However, once we hit Minnie’s Haberdashery – where more than two-thirds of the movie takes place – the stage is set, the crazy, well-cast characters shine, and the story clips along very enjoyably. A number of minor mysteries are also being set up. Where’s Minnie? Why does the door not close properly? Why doesn’t Bob know what he’s doing? Why is there a jellybean on the floor? But the movie smartly doesn’t emphasise them. These questions simmer away in the background while the focus is on the characters. It’s a wide-ranging group – three nationalities, three races, both genders, a big spread of ages – which is rare in Westerns. It’s refreshing and makes for some interesting dynamics. However, having said that, the film’s treatment of women is difficult to excuse. The main female character, Daisy, is subjected to more violence than everyone else put together, while three other women are killed simply because they’re in the way. Daisy is actually the most powerful character in the story (she has a strong, well-tooled gang to back her up) and its most cunning (she *really* plays the long game), yet the film doesn’t allow her any victory. Instead, she’s lynched by a racist. There’s also a hard-to-justify number of coincidences in the plot. Characters are forever bumping into people they’ve heard of in the middle of nowhere. Is this meant to be a conceptual joke? A play on how sparsely populated the Wild West actually was? Perhaps. An even bigger question you keep asking yourself is: who are the Hateful Eight? Posters, DVD covers and Wikipedia define the group as Warren, Ruth, Domergue, Mannix, Bob, Mobray, Gage and Smithers, but that ignores OB (and Jody). Of course, maybe the title is just a pun on the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven – or an acknowledgement of the fact Tarantino considers this to be his eighth movie (he ignores Four Rooms and counts Kill Bill as one film). On the whole, The Hateful Eight is worth seeing and has many things to commend it. But it lacks the focus of Reservoir Dogs, the ingenuity of Pulp Fiction, the soul of Jackie Brown, the tension of Inglourious Basterds and the dry humour of Django Unchained – all things that would help. Very good rather than great.

Eight bowls of stew out of 10

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