HATEFUL EIGHT: Reservoir Dogs in the Wild Wild West

the_hateful_eight_posterIt is appropriate that the eighth film from Quentin Tarantino (as the credits announce) should be titled The Hateful Eight, not to mention the fact that the film has eight main protagonists (but many more secondary ones).

Revisiting themes from his previous films, most of Hateful Eight, despite its genre, is set indoors, where the figures are confined to a limited space, just as they were in his Tarantino’s first feature, Reservoir Dogs.  And like that 1991 film, the new one boasts an impressive ensemble of actors, some of whom have worked with him before.




John Ford Verus Agatha Christie

the_hateful_eight_2_jacksonMixing elements of classic  Westerns, including John Ford’s 1939 Stagecoach, Hateful Eight is a film that could have been set in another time and place.  More than any of his previous films, the new one unfolds as an Agatha Christie mystery (specifically, Ten Little Indians), a thriller in which the identity and motivation of the characters keeps changing and is never clear–by design.

A lot of elements are vague, including the historical setting–it’s not clear if the tale takes place six or twelve years after the Civil War; it really doesn’t matter much.  Moreover, as is well known, an earlier version was done as stage reading, and Tarantino himself has said that he could see this work as a theatrical production.

the_hateful_eight_3_russellIn the first scene, which shows a stagecoach riding through the wintry snow of the Wyoming landscape,  a strange couple of passengers is introduced, John Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter, and Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), his fugitive who is abused by him both physically and emotionally (feminists may be upset by that aspect).  They are on their way to the town of Red Rock where Ruth, known as “The Hangman,” threatens to bring Daisy to the kind of “justice” she deserves.

Along the way in this strange road film, they encounter two other strangers: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a black former union soldier turned greedy and infamous bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a southern renegade who claims to be the town’s new Sheriff.

There is no reason to believe: The emphasis is on self-perception and self-presentation, as it is never clear if the characters are telling the “truth,” or how factual their stories of their pasts are, including a vivid recollection in an outdoor flashback, seen in a glorious long take, of explicit sexual  and racial abuse between two men.

the_hateful_eight_9Losing their way due to a ferocious blizzard, Ruth, Domergue, Warren, and Mannix seek refuge at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover on a mountain pass.  Let the blood spurt and the talk fest begin!  As running time is three hours (including prologue, intermission and exit music), Tarantino takes his time and lets his actor deliver their lengthy, often eloquent speeches about all kinds of hot-button issues, such as sexual politics, slavery, justice (eye for an eye), and interracial relationships (the frequent use of “nigger” should upset Spike Lee–again), motifs that were more interestingly explored in Django Unchained (a better picture on many levels).

The saga’s main section is set at Minnie’s, where the quartet is greeted not by the proprietor but by four other unfamiliar faces. Bob (Demian Bichir), who’s taking care of Minnie’s while she’s visiting her mother, is holed up with Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock, cow-puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and an old, racist, largely immobile Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern).

Since no one writes such elaborate monologues as Tarantino, soon the film becomes a twisty tale of shifting identities, conflicting motivations, and continuous attempts to figure out the future of the individuals, which is unsafe and uncertain.  The storm engulfs the mountainside stopover, constraining the travelers to a limited and dangerous space.  Midway they–and we the viewers–begin to suspect that this place is sort of a “no exit” hellish cabin, from which no one would escape alive or make it to Red Rock.

the_hateful_eight_leigh_3Throughout, the film shows tension between the indoor setting and verbose theatricality of the narrative, which is divided into chapters (of various length), and the ambition to lend the picture the respectability of an old-fashioned art house epic.  Tarantino’s regular cinematographer, Robert Richardson, should be credited for shooting in Panavision 70mm with a 2.76:1 aspect ratio, a style that has not been not used in Hollywood since the 1960s.  The visual glory and melancholy score musical  (by Ennio Morricone, who borrows freely from his previous efforts) of Tarantino’s epic will be fully experienced  as a “road show” in 100 US theaters on Christmas Day.

the_hateful_eight_1_tarantinoCommercially speaking, Hateful Eight lacks the pulp fiction of Tarantino’s WWII fantasy, Inglourious Basterds, which was a hot, and especially the social relevance and exuberant tone of Django Unchained, which grossed over $425,000 million globally and is the director’s most commercially successful picture. Auteurist critics may see Hateful Eight as a companion piece to Django Unchained, and perhaps even a panel in a trilogy that began with Inglourious Basterds.


A longer review will be published next week.