“The Hateful Eight” is Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, and his first true western, after exploring the genre’s themes in several of his previous movies, most notably “Kill Bill.” Unfortunately, the normally intriguing filmmaker fails to conjure up any of the excitement this genre uses brings, giving us instead an overlong (even by Tarantino standards), overly dull film populated with characters who are only mildly interesting at best.
Tarantino deserves credit, however, for the ambitious nature of the film. Set in snowy Wyoming sometime after the Civil War, “The Hateful Eight” follows a group of people stuck in a boarding house one winter night, and explores the tensions between them. There’s bounty hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), who hitches a ride with fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell), who is transporting fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is nominated for an Oscar for her performance). They are soon joined by Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock, the town they are heading toward. This whole sequence of just getting to the house where most of the action occurs reveals some of the film’s flaws very early on. It drags on for much too long, with most of the dull and meaningless conversation involving Ruth interrogating his guests while he decides whether or not to let them share his wagon.
But eventually we do get to the lodge, where we meet the rest of the gang. There’s Bob (Demian Bichir), a Mexican who claims he was left in charge of the lodge while the owner is off visiting her mother; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a quiet cowboy who claims to be heading home to see his mother; and the cranky, aging former Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern).
The film builds slowly—very, very slowly—from there. Don’t expect much action in this half of the movie, which is primarily dialogue-driven. Not that that’s a bad thing when handled correctly. And normally, Tarantino’s dialogue is sharp and engaging. He does use the tensions among the characters to explore the racial and political tensions of the time, many of which are just as relevant to today’s society—this is especially evident in the confrontation between Warren and Smithers. But the dialogue is flat and uninteresting. Often it feels like it should be going somewhere, we just don’t know where. Even as the film progresses and more information is fed to the audience as to what is happening, it’s difficult to work up any excitement over it.
Perhaps most of the problems lies with the fact that there are absolutely no likeable characters in the film—not that that’s much of a surprise, given the film’s title. Tarantino does make an admirable attempt to craft a story using only character with zero redeeming qualities. In a way, it harkens back to “Reservoir Dogs,” the film that made him popular with audiences (similarly, that movie was also set primarily in one room). As the story unfolds, each character is revealed to be even more despicable than previously thought, regardless of their background. But it is very hard to be emotionally invested in a story when you don’t care about any of the characters; it is possible to make an audience care about the bad guys, but this movie fails to do that.
The film does go from zero to 60 in the second half, however, with the kind of all-out bloodbath that Tarantino does best. The story takes on a sort of murder-mystery turn as the film backtracks to explain some things that happened previously. At that point things are finally interesting, but it’s too little too late.
Outside of the story, the rest of the film is a bit of a mess as well. It’s a great looking movie (it’s cinematography is nominated for an Oscar), but Tarantino’s use of 70mm Panavision film is puzzling given that, outside of a few outdoor landscapes toward the beginning, the majority of the film takes place inside, in one room. Legendary composer Ennio Morricone, who hadn’t scored a western in over thirty years, created the music for “The Hateful Eight” (for which he received his sixth Oscar nomination). His score is epic and gorgeous, but it often doesn’t fit with the narrative, which is far from epic. For example, in one scene the music swells ominously as two characters perform the mundane task of stringing a rope from the lodge to the outhouse. It just feels odd.
“The Hateful Eight” is Tarantino’s least edgy film to date. It isn’t clever, it isn’t interesting, and it largely wastes its talented cast and crew as it meanders through some sort of vague plot. Tarantino is known for taking his time telling his stories. Let’s just hope that with his next film, it’s a story worth telling.
Runtime: 167 minutes (187 minutes for the 70mm cut with overture and intermission). Rated R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.
Academy Award nominations for “The Hateful Eight”:
· Actress in a Supporting Role: Jennifer Jason Leigh
· Music, Original Score
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre