Last time I wrote about anything related to Quentin Tarantino was when I reviewed Django Unchained back in 2013. I got bombarded with arguments for calling the film decent, and criticizing the writing. Like the time when I posted a negative review for the film Frozen I once again stood my post, and debated the best of my abilities on my position on the film. Unlike the arguments presented in Frozen, the counter arguments brought up were good in defense of Django Unchained, but seriously didn’t fixed what still is a broken premise movie. If you don’t believe me (speaking directly to Tarantino “fans”) that Django Unchained premise is broken; well Dr. Schultz simply could have had Django work on his, or his friend slave farm while Schultz goes off to buy Django wife. That’s a viable solution, but since the film itself never brings it up everything about the story ends up feeling convoluted as it is actively trying to ignore this huge gap in logic with several other gap of logic (like the opening scene in Django Unchained). Now once again I find myself in the same position of Quentin Tarantino writing a Western. While the setup is a not a broken premise repeats from Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight suffers from more serious issues. It is a premise that makes sure it’s a story that should be told, but not written in a way to show that conviction.
The Hateful Eight is set in post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard, but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Upon entering the frame Major Marquis Warren (all rise for Samuel L. Jackson) sets up the atmosphere elegantly. His first lines of dialogue sets up the political climate of the era the film takes place in, the profession of Marquis Warren, his goal in the film, and his manner of speaking being very revealing of his personality. This same expertly done character establishment holds true when John Ruth (Kurt Russell) whose handcuffed with Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) are introduced into the film. Despite the fun personalities of these characters they do speak about each other bad deeds. These actions other characters speak on paint a grey in presentation of morality. If the film spend as much time developing the other characters like it did for John Ruth, Chris Mannix, and Marquis Warren then there would be a film worth showering with praises.
The film is set up into six chapters, and past chapter two the film fall apart from it own weight. This is mostly due to the unevenness in screentime from the characters, and the importance they hold in the story. For example, Daisy Domergue is a character whose defining characteristic is her bounty worth, and she’s a woman who killed. It takes the film over two hours to build on her character, and by the time she gets developed it’s no longer grey in presentation in the story. It gets established who is who, and why they perform the action they do by the time Daisy gets developed. The biggest shortcoming in the writing is showing favoritism in a film that intends for its audience to hate all the characters equally. For instance, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) gets very little to do in the story, and has no significant scene in the film that justified his creation. In Chapter 5, a brief moment is specifically written to present him negatively because the film story doesn’t know how else to use him. He’s simply a fodder character despite the writing claiming otherwise.
Then there’s also the character of O.B. (James Park) who despite having less lines of dialogue than Joe Gage is actually more significant to the story. O.B. is simply a background character who’s a stagecoach driver, and does not present any hateful traits even among the other characters. However, unlike Joe Gage where his hatred is force, O.B. positive presentation in the story serves as the only presence of a seemingly good, innocent person in the film. Being put to a greater use than a major character written in the film. Another fodder treated character is Bob (Demian Bichir) who’s main characteristic is he’s Mexican. His role in the story is treated like Joe Gage; no significance in any scene, and simply fodder in the cast. Now, there’s a character who doesn’t appear until around two hours into the film named Jody (Channing Tatum) who plays a far greater role in the film. He’s absent for a majority of the film, yet is given the importance of a major character. Not only does this affect the presentation of Joe Gage, and Bob as wholly useless in the film narrative, but further highlight the misusage of time spent on them.
A double edge sword of the dialogue is how it’s delivered. It’s very evident that when a character reveals plenty about themselves to strangers on a whim it spells out expository dialogue. However, the flashiness of how the character speak can make the force exposition, and character development enjoyable to see unfold. What’s not is when certain plot points like Marquis’s letter from Abraham Lincoln, Daisy Domergue is a criminal worth 10,000 dollars, and fights in the civil war are repeatedly brought up. Marquis letter from Lincoln is an exception as its use to developed Marquis as a character. The significance of the letter makes Marquis three dimensional, and a complex character for how much values he places on it. It also serves an important character moment in the ending for how much value is placed on it, even after learning of its true origin.
The other topics that are brought up is the Civil War, the reputation of characters, and Daisy Domergue bounty. With plenty of characters these limited topics could fill up three hours’ worth of dialogue. Unfortunately, it becomes tedious when established facts like Daisy bounty worth, Marquis Lincoln letter, and character specific traits are repeated multiple times within the film. When no variation is applied, or adding something new to an established story element makes the viewing experience feel like it’s three hours, or longer in some scenes. Especially when seeing a small act of violence, and predicting the outcome of that scene. In order to withhold progress lengthy monologues are written into the film. Now, not the all the monologues are purposeless, but the ones that are simply prolonging the expected outcome of a scene.
No other scene in the film than Major Marquis Warren suspect deduction scene can better highlight the weakness of Quentin Tarantino writing in The Hateful Eight. In this specific scene, Samuel L. Jackson does a stupendous job for around ten, or so minutes performing the scene. His delivery, and body movement is over the top like the leap in logic being presented. Now in order for Marquis Warren suspect deduction to have worked certain facts had to be established before entering the scene. However, no such thing occurs in the film as the many conversations Marquis Warren has among the characters only one foreshadows a possibility of criminals in a room. That one scene doesn’t established that Minnie (the owner) was racist towards a specific group of people, the “cooked the stew” allegation doesn’t stand on much ground since anyone else who was in the cabin could have cooked it as well, and the owner husband love for his chair is only known to Marquis. These details aren’t alluded to, nor share among the viewers. It’s withholding information for the sake of forced tension. This is singlehandedly, the most convoluted piece of writing under Tarantino name, besides the premise to Django Unchained.
What finally makes the film come around full circle is, well, the lack of hateful characters. If I were to push my morality aside, the uneven screen time, and uneven character development of the cast hinders what could have been a complex film. If the film started in Minnie’s Haberdashery the criticism of uneven portrayal for the characters would still stand. Joe Gage would still have little to his character, Bob would still just be a Mexican in the story, but it wouldn’t be as prominent as it is now. Another issue is Tarantino to maintain his signatures marks on the film even though it works against the film. I’m expected to believe that within the same movie a revolver is strong enough to blow up someone’s head at point blank range, yet when those same revolvers are fired in different scenes the amount of force from those shots don’t cause someone leg, hand, or even chest to blow up in the same over the top manner.
When the brief moments of blood, gore, and violence do appear on screen it’s entirely out of place. The moments of violence are over the top when the entire film is restraint in presentation. While the actors are hamming, and over the top what generally is not are the characters. They talked about the Civil War repeatedly, the bad deeds of the people in the cabin repeatedly, and at no point in the film establishes a tone that would work in over the top violence. It’s sloppily written which is the biggest shame. There are ideas in place for a great movie, but after chapter two it loses it ways, and is unable to find where its original destination in the first place.
This film redeeming trait are the performances from its cast. Samuel L. Jackson is easily the best actor in the cast stealing the spotlight in every scene. He’s over the top in line delivery, and mannerism on screen. Balancing serious dramatic with over the top antics without breaking character, or the tone of the film. His extensive monologue is where he shins going minutes at a times speaking by himself. In one scene, Samuel L. Jackson character Marquis tells a story in glorious fashion. As any story teller would Jackson raises his excitement, and changing his tone to fit the scene of his description. Jackson is performance is plain, and simple justifies the price of admission in checking out the film.
Kurt Russell also does a good job in the film as John Ruth. However, his performance doesn’t allow him the freedom of that of Samuel L. Jackson. Russell character is more rude, and crude in his personality. He’s able to sell his unflattering character convincingly as a leading actor. His performance is also worthy of another praise since it’s capable of misleading audiences, but revealing any specifics would ruin it. All I’ll say is I didn’t see it coming given how good Kurt Russell is in the film. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Daisy Domergue who is handcuffed to John Ruth for virtually the entirely film. Leigh character is also the most realistic since her character is written in a more restrained manner because of the position she’s in. Despite the constraint of being handcuffed to another actor she does allot more than expected of her. Through simple gestures she’s able to reveal much of her character hateful, and playful nature. She able to come across as manipulative, sympathetic, and funny with, or without dialogue. Add to the fact she does not have the same freedom of body movements since she’s handcuffed to Kurt Russell.
Walton Goggins plays Chris Mannix in the movie. His performance is very cheesy due to his best described “country bumpkin” accent. He is mostly in the film to play up the dark humor. To his credit he’s able to deliver on the jokes despite the tonal problem the film has. His comedic timing is spot on, but sometime it won’t get a laugh. However, that’s more of a fault with the material, and not Walton Goggins as an actor. Goggins, if anything, is also a spotlight in the film for his entertaining performance. The last standout performance comes from Tim Roth as Oswaldo Mobray. Despite his profession of hanging people for a living Roth presents himself as a gentleman. Flamboyant in the manner he speaks he emphasizes the best aspects of Tarantino dialogue. Tim Roth is entertaining for the whole film, and was perfectly cast in the role.
Everyone else is unfortunately a victim of a thankless role. The only actor who goes mostly unscathed is Channing Tatum as Jody who mostly has to be charming in the short screen time he’s given. Michael Madsen as Joe Gage, and Demian Bichir as Bob are two actors that get short changed in their roles. Demian Bichir Mexican accent is the only noteworthy aspect of his performance. Too bad Bichir doesn’t get a scene to demonstrate his acting chops. Madsen on the other hand does get that chance when he’s introduce, but he has to stick with the tough guy persona. He’s unable to break from his mold which makes him another wasted addition in the cast. Then there’s Bruce Dern as General Sandy Smithers. For the character he played the less is more approach works in his favor. Dern is only in the film for his appearance working in favor of the character he is playing. Finally, there’s James Park as O.B. who does little speaking. As mentioned before with Dern, James Park role is simply for appearances purposes.
One pointless addition to the cast that was entirely unneeded was Quentin Tarantino himself. After the intermission is over he narrates a generalization of the events that led to the current event in the story. It’s about as pointless as much as it is self-indulgent. The camera shows the turning point of the story by itself, and the narration adds nothing to it. Tarantino simply states the obvious in the scene when the scene itself was all that was needed to get what he wanted across. It’s especially more self-indulgent when there’s no narration for virtually the entire film. I mean, Tarantino could simply state the obvious in every scene possible if he wanted as this brief narration proves. While on Tarantino his direction in the film is uninspired in the film. The performances show more personality than the cinematography itself. His biggest downfall is failing to use the background as part of a narrative tool. The cinematography is best at showcasing its actors’ performances, but if you’re expecting grand vistas you’ll be disappointed as the majority of the film takes place in door. Ennio Morricone (I bow down to this man’s legacy) score whenever in use is fantastic. Immediately upon hearing it sets up the atmosphere as soon as the first note hits. Morricone score isn’t used much in the film, but whenever it is the scene makes the most of its music.
The Hateful Eight is a very serious film from Quentin Tarantino who shares no serious intention to fix his shortcomings from his writing when he last venture in the Western genre. Why would he when the world of criticism, and his fans have already given him pedestal to stand on. Regardless of the criticism I, and anyone else might have with Tarantino films it will be overshadowed by those in the fan base that will accept his creation just because his name is on it. Django Unchained is a weak presentation of Tarantino writing. However, the tone of it made the leap in logic, and sometime cartoony events be forgivable. In The Hateful Eight not so much as its serious tone makes it shortcoming less forgivable. Here’s lies a film where signs of Tarantino only being able to make one of kind film shows. He wants to do a serious a film that discusses serious issues, but is unable to remove his personality in order to do so. That there is the sole reason why The Hateful Eight ends up being a film where uncertainty is prevalent throughout it.
Footnote on 70MM: Not Worth The Price of Admission
As mentioned in the review around 88% of the film takes place inside a stagecoach passover called Minnie’s Haberdashery, and the remaining 12% would roughly be outdoor scenes. Now here’s the problem, the film does not use the 70MM format to it’s advantage at all. It’s a film that emphasizes dialogue over grand vistas. The very few 3% of a three hour film (counting the 15 minute intermission) are massive shots of the frozen wilderness which not justified the format to see the film. If I were instead writing about, say, Mad Max: Fury Road in 70MM format I would say the extra cost is worth seeing (despite my thoughts on the writing) on the bigger screen because it went big on its visual. The Hateful Eight doesn’t go all the way. Instead you’ll just be paying extra to see a bunch of actor just simply talking in one location, which is unnecessary to see in its 70MM.