The Hateful Eight, 2015.
Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir and Channing Tatum
In post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Will they survive?
Quentin Tarantino has always been a visionary of the highest order, now so far up the Hollywood ladder that he has had carte blanche on almost every film since Pulp Fiction which has allowed him to bring us an exhaustive plethora of some of the most striking images of this fledgling century. But with The Hateful Eight, he is pushing his fascination with film to new/old levels of awe and reverence as he tries to reacquaint modern audiences with the thrill of Panavision, Cinerama and the unlimited potential of film on film. Dead since the 1960’s, Panavision 70mm has been given a rebirth under the director who is in a small group of filmmakers desperate to cling on to what made them want to become storytellers in their fledgling lives: the power of film.
And with The Hateful Eight, the director’s 8th film (only two more to go so he says) instantly takes it place amongst his greatest achievements from the very first few frames. Opening on a stark, wintery mountain setting that looks so real you can feel the biting cold, we are thrust into the back of a horse-drawn carriage with Major Marquis Warren (Jackson), a former War vet trying to collect on his in-tow bounty, and John Ruth (Russell), known as fellow bounty hunter The Hangman who is seeking his biggest score yet: that of notorious killer/gang member Daisy Domergue (Jason Leigh). But with the storm worsening every second, the trio seek shelter in a local haberdashery until it passes, only with four other men who may be looking for more than strong coffee and hot stew.
It’s undeniable from those magnificent opening moments of breathless cinema that Tarantino has created something undeniably beautiful here, something that will hopefully live on for years to come and influence other filmmakers to continue to embrace film in all its glory. Colours explode from the might of the widescreen, as we are transported to the slopes of Wyoming, all of its wintery slopes and snow-laden roads bursting from the screen in a way that hasn’t been seen for decades. Truly, this is cinema at it’s most exquisite best.
But despite its impeccableness, the delicate nature of what unfolds on-screen, when the action settles in at the Haberdashery that despite what Tarantino, DoP Robert Richardson (Django Unchained, Inglorious Basterds), editor Fred Raskin et al have created and composed to stunning effect here, Tarantino’s violent streak threatens to derail everything piece of meticulously beautiful filmmaking.
Whisper it quietly, but the director’s penchant for copious amounts of blood and violence are what hinder The Hateful Eight from becoming Tarantino’s unequivocal masterpiece. Such are the power of the images on-screen, they way they are presented and the immersion it gives, in the full “roadshow” or otherwise, that when the nastier elements of this rag-tag group become apparent, they almost spoil all the groundwork that has been laid. This is still a Tarantino film of course, so such things are to be expected, but you wonder what could it have been if the dynamic director had toned down those elements and let the sumptuous images unveil themselves through those gorgeous lenses.
In addition, the film downturns through the mid-section (particularly that which rests either side of the intermission) as the film becomes so besotted with itself that it forgets to entertain us rather than itself. Tarantino’s trademark energy and intensity seems strangely lacking, and while the dialogue fizzles as you would expect it never quite grabs you in the way you would hope, nor is there a truly awesome moment to get your teeth into outside of the cinematic magnificence. It’s a twisty, puzzling whodunit that plays out as the most violent game of Cluedo ever with neither the audience nor indeed the players know quite who to trust, but it feels so long-winded and perfunctory in places that you aren’t quite as invested in the characters as you normally would. That said, the performances across the board are excellent, with Jennifer Jason Leigh (where has she been?), Walton Goggins and of course Jackson in particular excelling.
What’s undeniable is how magnificent The Hateful Eight looks, sounds and feels: filling up the widest possibly canvas with some of the most superb visuals we have seen this decade, it’s a masterpiece of creation, patience and film in the absolute. It’s just a shame that Tarantino’s 8th film is covered in lashings of the red stuff. The most beautiful looking red stuff, mind.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Scott Davis is Senior Staff Writer for Flickering Myth and co-host of The Flickering Myth Review Podcast. Follow him on Twitter.