Film Review: ‘The Hateful Eight’

Hateful Eight
Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Considering there are more than eight gunslingers in Quentin Tarantino's delicious, if somewhat familiar Western, the title would appear to refer to his filmography as it stands.

The Civil War didn’t end at Appomattox, but still rages in the hearts and minds of Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” a salty hothouse whodunit that owes as much to Agatha Christie as it does to Anthony Mann. Though Tarantino toys with many of the lawless frontier genre’s classic tropes, it’s arguable whether this deliciously long-winded mystery — “molasses-like,” to use his own term — qualifies as a Western at all. It might more aptly be considered an ongoing North-vs.-Southern, seeing as how it crams hair-trigger racial tensions into an otherwise neutral outpost, where a mixed bag of gunslingers uneasily try to make nice during a blizzard. The gratuitous bloodletting and hefty running time (the 70mm “roadshow” version clocks a thrilling 187 minutes, including overture and intermission) should appeal primarily to cinephiles, building word of mouth in the week between Christmas Day and Dec. 31, when it makes a killing in wide release.

Last year, Tarantino announced a career plan that would see the director retiring (or perhaps turning his attention to television) after 10 films, and in light of his own self-imposed limit, the helmer’s eighth feature initially appears to be an entry half-wasted, falling into the more disappointing B-movie category of Tarantino’s oeuvre, wherein he takes second-rate genres and gives them the most impressive possible spin. There’s no denying he’s been down this road before, whether it was reheating the spaghetti Western to such spectacular effect in “Django Unchained” or exploiting the distrust among eight other near-strangers in “Reservoir Dogs”  at the outset of his career. Familiarity aside, however, the movie absolutely delivers on the sheer moment-to-moment pleasures fans have come to expect, from dynamite dialogue to powder-keg confrontations.
A roundup of old faces and new, thrown together in Minnie’s Haberdashery — a rustic watering hole that serves as these varmints’ only shelter from an encroaching storm — the film assembles eight ruffians in the middle of Wyoming, including a reunion of Mssrs. Blonde (Michael Madsen) and Orange (Tim Roth), who appear here as a black-hat cowboy and a dandy British hangman, respectively. Joining them are two bounty hunters who cross paths in the snow, John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Maj. Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), the former tasked with escorting his quarry, a feral lady outlaw named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to the gallows in Red Rock. En route, they encounter the town’s replacement sheriff, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), while waiting ahead at Minnie’s are a standoffish Mexican (Demian Bichir) and surly rebel general (Bruce Dern).

Inexplicably, the hateful head count fails to acknowledge John Ruth’s ostensibly benevolent driver O.B. (James Parks), who would otherwise be No. 9, or the elephant in the room: namely, the palpable disdain broiling between this handful of ex-Confederate racists and Jackson’s African-American former Union officer, who wields a letter from Abraham Lincoln as skillfully as he does his six-shooter. Warren’s motives are mysterious enough at first, though when others fail to respect the hard-fought spirit of emancipation and equality, he emerges as the still-seething embodiment of that old Ezekiel verse: “I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.”

Jackson never gets a monologue of such awesome caliber here, although Tarantino does give him some of the best lines in a screenplay that audiences had the rare chance to read in advance of seeing the film — a peculiar situation owing to the fact that an early draft leaked online. But Tarantino writes dialogue that begs to be performed, and even a live reading in April 2014 couldn’t suggest what the magic ingredient of cinema would do for his vision. Underscoring his commitment to celluloid, the director dusted off the Ultra Panavision 70 format used on such Cinerama epics as “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and “How the West Was Won,” but put those vintage lenses to curious use, all but ignoring the outdoor vistas (a victim of Jackson’s scenery chewing, no doubt) in order to achieve a more claustrophobic cabin-fever dynamic.

Still, the film opens atmospherically enough, first with a striking pre-credits placeholder — an “Overture” card that depicts a six-horse stagecoach racing from right to left in silhouette against a bold red screen — before cutting to a long shot of the same vehicle riding into frame as a snow-covered cross looms in the foreground. Tarantino’s use of music, like his choice of shooting formats, marks a dramatic break from the rest of his oeuvre, in which the control-freak director has creatively recycled existing songs and score, while giving them such currency that they may as well have been written for him. Here, by contrast, he relies on Ennio Morricone to set the tone, and gets a stiff, synthesizer-driven horse kick of anticipation from it. While Tarantino excels at slow-build suspense (and word is out that a bloodbath awaits), Morricone’s eight-minute mood-setter indicates the violence is coiled and ready to strike.

The pleasure, at least for those who haven’t sampled the script in advance, comes in waiting. Tarantino has conjured a sense of the Old West — not unlike the unforgiving frontier of Alejandro G. Inarritu’s “The Revenant” — where it’s every man for himself, which means the only safe way to interact with a stranger is to assume that he’d kill you without a moment’s thought. We sense the wariness as Warren attempts to board Ruth’s private stage; the dynamic intensifies once they pick up “son of a gun” Mannix; and it’s anybody’s guess what could happen when these travelers arrive at Minnie’s to find no sign of either its owner (Dana Gourrier) or the inseparable Sweet Dave (Gene Jones).

Sly hints indicate what might have happened — from a stray jelly bean wedged between the floorboards to the broken “whore” of a door that won’t close unless it’s nailed firmly shut — though that shifty feeling that settles once all the characters are safely indoors arises less from anything that’s overtly said than from the actors’ body language and whatever menace lurks behind their words. Naturally, each of them knows more than he’s letting on, which puts “The Hateful Eight” squarely in parlor-mystery territory. It may take place somewhere outside Red Rock a few years after the Civil War, but the plot could conceivably work just as well in a dark, cobwebby castle somewhere in Eastern Europe.

Stretching the suspense as far as it can possibly go, as is his wont, Tarantino withholds the first bullet until roughly the 100-minute mark, breaking for intermission just after the first corpse hits the floor. The body count climbs much faster as soon as audiences have regained their seats, ultimately reaching a figure far higher than the title eight (a trick Tarantino pulls off by turning back the clock to earlier that morning). The director even insinuates himself just after the intermission, narrating what transpired during the break and introducing a twist, whereby someone poisoned the coffee while audiences were restocking on popcorn.

Everything in a Tarantino movie is done with a wink, and this touch practically tips it into parody, as in an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” where our macabre host drops by to mock the dead. But then, this is precisely the level on which audiences have been enjoying the story thus far, suspended somewhere between the ultra-stylized faux-period parlance (in which the excessive use of the “N word” speaks more to Tarantino’s street cred than to any defensible sense of authenticity) and the self-awareness that every actor is sinking his (or her) tobacco-rotten teeth into what could potentially be the open-range beefiest roles of their careers.

Few helmers take greater satisfaction in reminding audiences that they are watching a movie, and though the material itself seems hardly substantial enough to suit an hour-long television episode (Delmer Daves told the superior — and superficially similar — “3:10 to Yuma” in a tight 92 minutes), Tarantino’s treatment makes it epic. That encompasses everything from the roadshow format, which insists upon a grand theatrical viewing experience, to the wider-than-widescreen aspect ratio. Tarantino and “Django” editor Fred Raskin have even relaxed the tempo so that we might scrutinize every frame of d.p. Robert Richardson’s luxurious work. It all looks like a set, though interiors are blocked in such a way that audiences have a choice where to look, while closeups register every facial twitch.

Some faces — and indeed, some performances — hold up better than others at that scale. Bug-eyed Goggins nearly always seems cartoonish in other roles, but rather astonishingly integrates into the ensemble here, whereas Roth’s wonderfully named Oswaldo Mobray doesn’t belong, an escapee from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” or some entirely different movie. Bichir, Madsen and Dern get their moments, but find themselves overshadowed by Russell’s and Jackson’s far hammier performances. Popping up late in the game, a miscast Channing Tatum upsets the delicate chemistry, leaving audiences to debate whether he or character actor Craig Stark (as Dern’s son, who appears in an outrageous but only half-credible flashback) endures the more humiliating fate.

Of the eponymous eight, Leigh creates the most memorable new character — the one who stands to gain the most if the others lay each other low. Her bruised face and broken voice suggesting false docility, while her calm indicates something dangerous waiting around the corner. “Domergue’s Got a Secret” reads one chapter heading, though that could just as well be the movie’s title, considering all the crone’s got to hide. Daisy takes a beating over the course of three hours, and though some have already suggested that such brutality (often played for laughs) is no way to treat a lady, Tarantino treats her like one of the guys. Frankly, the movie’s gender dynamics aren’t nearly as rich as its racial politics, though the latter subtext is what makes this more than just a fresh stew of “Grindhouse” leftovers, but a deserving hateful eighth entry in one of American cinema’s most distinctive filmographies.

Film Review: 'The Hateful Eight'

Reviewed at Gaumont Marignan, Paris, Dec. 4, 2015. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 187 MIN.

Production

A Weinstein Co. release and presentation of a Band Apart production. Produced by Richard N. Gladstein, Stacey Sher, Shannon McIntosh. Executive producers, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Georgia Kacandes.

Crew

Directed, written by Quentin Tarantino. Camera (color, Ultra Panavision 70 widescreen), Robert Richardson; editor, Fred Raskin; music, Ennio Morricone; music supervisor, Mary Ramos; production designer, Yohei Taneda; supervising art director, Richard L. Johnson; art director, Ben Edelberg; set decorator, Rosemary Brandenburg; costume designer, Courtney Hoffman; sound (Dolby/Datasat), Mark Ulano; supervising sound editors, Wylie Stateman, Harry Cohen; re-recording mixers, Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler; special effects coordinator, Bruno Van Zeebroeck; visual effects designer, John Dykstra; visual effects supervisors, Dan Glass, Troy Moore, Laurent Gillet, Darren Poe; visual effects producers, Lisa Goldberg, Mark Webb, Lisa K. Spence; visual effects, Method Studios, Scanline VFX; special makeup effects, Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger; associate producers, William Paul Clark, Coco Francini; assistant director, Clark; casting, Victoria Thomas.

With

Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Zoe Bell, Lee Horsley, Gene Jones, Keith Jefferson, Craig Stark, Belinda Owino, Channing Tatum. (English, Spanish dialogue)

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  1. whiteman says:

    So its only ok for black people to use the N word, How racist is that. Film was a load of crap, i feel its more racist towards whites than blacks. When are white people going to wake up instead of kissing black arse.

  2. whiteman says:

    Just watched this racist film that should have never been made or shown. Always putting down the white man, made by white men,. Terrible film. Will anything be done about it? No it wont, again an attack on white people.

  3. Leslie Lloyd says:

    The film was boring!

  4. Just saw the movie-nothing special. The payoff at the end was not worth an almost 3 hour movie. I wouldn’t even say it’s a movie you have to see and I am a Tarantino fan

  5. JohnnyC says:

    I disagree about Channing Tatum. While I was surprised he’d been cast, and was expecting an unsatisfying performance out of him, I thought he was quite good in the role. Same for Tim Roth, I thought it was one of his finest performances.

  6. JohnnyC says:

    I loved it so much, I watched it a second time the next day, and loved it even more.

  7. Stinkyweezleteet says:

    The good part must’ve come near the end. I thought it dragged so bad I walked out a little more than half way through.

    • Helen Highly says:

      Actually, yes, one of the best parts does come at the end — the reading aloud of the full Lincoln letter. It was a brilliant and beautiful Tarantino moment: First Samuel Jackson is wreaking ferocious brutal havoc and then a minute later we see him listening to the letter, which he has held so dearly for so long, being read aloud, and watching his face, I felt so much for him (and from him). The movie goes from crazed depravity to heartfelt sincerity to wacky comedy, all within minutes. That’s the wonder of Tarantino. And not many critics have written about the Lincoln letter, perhaps not wanting to give away the surprise connected to it (which I will not mention here). But that letter is a meaningful part of the story and really helps to tie it all together. And it’s the last great moment of the film. It’s really where the film ends for me (although it does go on for a bit longer). SO yes… you should have stayed till the end.

  8. Desiree says:

    Just saw the roadhow version. 187 minutes. Very entertaining. Didnt feel like 3 hours. Didnt mind the use of the N word or the B word or the rape, mysogeny and racism. Recommend it to all QT fans! Oh yeah, I’m a black female FYI.

  9. CavalierKong says:

    “Bug-eyed Goggins nearly always seems cartoonish in other roles, but rather astonishingly integrates into the ensemble here…”

    A couple of offhand insults to one of the best actors working today. He’s fantastic in every role he takes.

  10. Not his best by far. A bit too long and the plot could have been better. And just too much use of the N-word. Yes, it’s realistic, people used that term and it’s not taken out of context. But how many films is that now QT? Is it absolutely necessary?

  11. JFA says:

    Don’t know how one could not mention Leone’s Once Upon A Time in the West when pondering the films influences. Maybe Debruge isn’t familiar:) lol

  12. Bryan Moore says:

    Are you talking about the book of Ezekiel in the Bible?

    Do you have chapter and verse for this? he emerges as the still-seething embodiment of that old Ezekiel verse: “I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.”

    You wouldn’t try to make up scriptures would you?

    Bmoore

    • John says:

      So… you’re not at all familiar with Tarantino?! That adulterated verse was used in Pulp Fiction some 20 or so years ago.

  13. Curtis says:

    Doctor: “I’m going to change your prescription from Ambien to The Hateful 8. Will put you to sleep faster.”

  14. allie says:

    Who cares about this racist hayeful garbage. No thank by!

  15. DEAR MR. TARANTINO – Or – Why this Black guy can no longer vouch for you in the barbershop after seeing your film and reading this review…
    I’m super confused that no one has brought up how overly racist this film truly is at its heart. It boggles my mind. I’m am/was a huge Tarantino defender but after seeing this film at a screening I was uncomfortable at the over-use of the N-word (NIGGER) why not just say it here? No one seemed to mind laughing every time it was said in the movie theater. As an African American – this film was so uncomfortable to sit through. At least with Django there was context and I knew what I was walking into – but I was not prepared for for this. I wanted to write a review because I got to see it before any one else, but I let it go – assuming the critics would see it. I guess you guys missed it. Tarantino does not have street cred. The majority of blacks will feel as uncomfortable as I did when they hear the audience laughing at every racial slur. It’s that Dave Chappelle Moment on the Chappelle Show that led the star to give up his gig and a gazillion dollars. Hearing the way a white audience member laughed at one of his bits chilled him so dearly to the bone that he left his show and never returned…questioning if he was actually doing more harm then good. Well, now I get it. After three hours of hearing that type of laughter during the film…it simply tore me apart. What’s worse is that this film actually thinks it’s a comedy. I was such a fan that I waited to the finale of the film, hoping there would be redemption or meaning to this madness. Nope. Great three hours of fun, right? I could give you eight hateful reason why THE HATEFUL EIGHT is racist at its heart, which now makes me go back and question every film Tarantino has written – maybe the dude is racist. Maybe Spike Lee was right. No way, right? So I go back and look at Tarantino’s work: RESEVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION, JACKIE BROWN, INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, DJANGO, THE HATEFUL EIGHT (Also, TRUE ROMANCE infamous speech between Hopper and Walken; NATURAL BORN KILLERS – yes, it was rewritten but much of the racial slurs are in his first draft;). All of these films is guttered with “Nigger” this and “Nigger” that. And we keep freakin’ laughing and giving this guy a pass. I know that no one will really care. I’m just saddened by it all; and I know that at this point I can no longer vouch for Tarantino or support his work. I even question his TRUE MOTIVES for the March in New York against police brutality. Maybe that was an offensive move to ease this bitter pill the majority of blacks will swallow when it comes out. I keep telling myself that I’m just being sensitive, I mean…Sam Jackson appears okay, right? He’s always the one saying “nigger” or being called “nigger.” He even goes on a publicity tour every time there’s a controversy in regards Tarantino’s use of the N-word. I do find it interesting that he literally played a House Negro in Django…is art actually representing reality? Has Mr. Jackson somehow becomes Tarantino’s House Negro. I’m not uptight. I am super liberal…graduate from USC. So I get it. I’m just really heartbroken. I loved this guy my entire life. My idol has failed me.

    • Robert says:

      I am an old white guy that lives in the south and I am as conservative as they come. When my wife and I finished this movie, without talking I new this was the last QT movie we would ever watch. I think one of QT’s black friends told him it was OK to use the word nigger and he has decided to over use it in every movie. I can’t give this racist any more money.

      • Thank you for your thoughtful analysis. I’ve been suspicious of Tarantino ever since the True Romance script. He comes across as a maniacal child-man who relishes in every ‘verboten’ he can as a film maker. Go back in time to the mid 90’s where we see him spit into a reporters face on the red carpet because he thought the man had insulted his father in print one time. Well, turns out QT had the wrong guy, it was somebody else who just so happened to work for the same magazine. No apologies from QT however. Talented director and writer. Still a complete jackass though and a very suspect individual.

      • Helen Highly says:

        I wrote the big long rave review above, and I just wanted to say that after reading what you wrote here (which I failed to read before I posted my “comment”), you have definitely given me pause. Like you, I have long been a Tarantino lover and defender. But I think you make an excellent point about how this film will play to a black audience. If I were black, I would be as uncomfortable as you were watching this in a theater. I’m not doing a total turn-around about my admiration for the film (for all its other wonders), but I will definitely take a step back and recognize this angle that I had simply not considered before.

        (I am a white woman, and I emphatically insist that Tarantino is not a misogynist. But even if he is, sexism is not the same kind of bigotry as racism in America; it doesn’t cut as deeply. So, it’s not the same issue.)

        I was a big fan of Django Unchained, because I thought Tarantino really had something to say there, and he was using shock tactics to make the audience hear it and feel it. And I think it worked. But, I do now see how I have just given Tarantino “a pass” to continue using the N-word anywhere and everywhere without consideration. I don’t think he “earned it” with the content in this film. Hateful Eight was, as I wrote, a big splashy thrill ride. And he could have given us the good parts (and the shock and awe) of the movie without throwing around the N-word so callously. I don’t think it was central to his message here. Yes, this movie did of course address racism, and it would be easy to defend Tarantino by saying that he was showing the horror of it, not supporting it. But… your comment about how you felt sitting in the theater says it all.

    • Dee2062 says:

      Another black Tarantino fan who cringed during this entire film. The film was racist, and Tarantino does not have “street cred.” I grew up in the south where the confederate flag was part of our state flag, but I never heard the N word used so many times over my entire life as I did in one sitting of this movie. I sincerely believe QT’s protesting against police officers is to make up for the back lash he’s about to receive from black filmgoers. I will never again spend money on a Tarantino film.

      • Helen Highly says:

        Well, I guess they removed my big long comment above. That’s a pity. Variety editors: I wrote a detailed and valid comment that specifically referenced your article. You removed it because I mention I have a blog? You should re-think that policy. You are going to lose me (and others like me) as readers and contributors to your discussions.

    • Sal U. Lloyd says:

      Very good post. Spike Lee criticized Django.

    • Elle says:

      Welcome to reality. I have suspected for some time that Mr. Tarrantino was buying “street cred” by exposing his own racism and projecting it onto his characters and the audience.
      It is entirely possible to have some degree of talent and be an odious human being.

  16. You can’t beat Tarantino for great film openings, nobody does justice to credits/title etc…the way he does. Can only think of one film this year who delivered on that score: a foreign import called Marshland in English, a killer thriller with riveting opening scenery, rest of the film equally good.

  17. wiles11 says:

    Delmer DAVIES?

  18. TC says:

    “Bug-eyed Goggins” was phenomenal in The Shield and Justified, so I don’t find it astonishing at all that he “integrates into the ensemble here.”

  19. Alejandro says:

    Could we now get a review that’s not written in riddles?

  20. Bill B. says:

    Can’t wait. There are not many more interesting directors out there than Tarantino. His portion of Four Rooms was as awful as the rest of it, but I don’t think he has ever made a film that I didn’t find fascinating to watch.

  21. Dee says:

    Debruge: Duuuuuude! ALL of Tarantino’s movies are pastiche or homage to “second-rate genres” to use your phrase, and likely ( mostly) seen during a trip to the drive-in. “Reservior Dogs” & “Pulp Fiction” are throwbacks to the gangster films of the 40s (and maybe 50s) as well as the crime films of the early and late 70s. “Jackie Brown” and “Django Unchained” are homage to Blaxploitation flicks as well as the specialized black P.I. films of 70s and spaghetti westerns. “Kill Bill” volumes one and two are obviously homage to the kung fu flicks of the 70s and to anime. “Deathproof” is DEFINITELY drive-in flavoured, going for the gory, killer on the road flicks that sometimes popped up on those screens. And “Inglorious Basterds”? Pick ANY b-level WWII flick and you’ll see it reflected in this over-the-top outing.

    Homage to B-movie/drive in level cinema is what Tarantino is all about. What makes him great is the quality of his scripts, and the undeniable director’s eye behind the camera.

  22. Occultology says:

    That last sentence in this review is incoherent; try not to cram every thought in your head into a single sentence next time. Doesn’t anyone edit copy anymore?

    • wiles11 says:

      Unless it was rewritten since you complained, the sentence is grammatically sound. If it wasn’t rewritten, then you just have difficulty with long sentences, clearly.

  23. craig says:

    I’m so happy to see Jennifer Jason Leigh on the screen again in a big character-driven movie.

  24. Rudy Mario says:

    No mention about cinematography or whether the reviewer saw it in 70MM or digital…

  25. Marty Pfeiffer says:

    Same old westerns that find themes that are tired. In addition I am done with Tarantino after he chose the wrong side of the law once again.

  26. Jimmy Green says:

    It may be worth sneaking in for free at the multiplex, but I wouldn’t pay one penny to see a slow moving, repetitive, derivative Western from this hack.

  27. Scott says:

    I’ve seen it, but seriously do you have to give away do much for those who haven’t?

    • Jerry12345 says:

      He’s not copying anything. Its called homage and pastiche. If you knew anything about good movies (which you don’t) you would know that. Just because he borrows certain elements from other movies doesn’t make him a “hack” and actually makes him better because it shows you how much he actually knows about cinema.

  28. Gary Gibson says:

    The score is not synth driven…those are bassoons playing dissonant notes. And there is a large choir as well. It’s freaking Ennio Morricone for crying out loud.

  29. SPIKE says:

    this is just butt-kissing a B-movie maker. you can add all the snappy dialogue you want. it’s still a B-movie. why? because Tarantino, not having anything meaningful to say in the medium of film, should have stayed in the video store where he belonged.

    • JC says:

      Yeah, he should have stayed in the video store and never made those millions of dollars, received those Oscar nominations and wins, won the Cannes Palme d’Or, become one of the biggest names in Hollywood, etc. I’m sure if you went back in time, visited him in the video store and explained his options to him, he would’ve stayed in the video store.

      I hope you’re not an agent.

  30. LOL says:

    Sounds crap.

  31. cadavra says:

    It’s definitely not a western. Change the costumes and replace the stagecoach with a bus, and it could be 1970 instead of 1870.

    And a correction: HOW THE WEST WAS WON was shot in good old 3-camera Cinerama, not Ultra Panavision. IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD would be a correct example.

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