There has been a substantial amount of grandiose presentment, in the preceding months, of the facts and theories behind Quentin Tarantino’s latest cinematic effort, The Hateful Eight. The leaked script scandal was but the beginning. Since the decision was made to move forward into production, Tarantinophiles have been steadily served up news on the production, the cast, the crew, the locations, and of course, the 70mm format, and all of the efforts that Weinstein and Company went through in scouring the globe to secure every working and non-working 70mm projector they could lay mitts on, to refurbish and strategically install in theaters across the country, so that the film could be properly shown in all of its old school glory.
Then came news of the throwback “event” nature of the premiere, with the overture and intermission, sort of the roadshow style of delivery, harkening back to the time when seeing a movie was an event, to dress up for and make a night of, rather than the current norm, sneaking into a dim strip-mall theater, consuming a quick Hollywood dish along with your smuggled-in candy (or absurdly over-priced popcorn/soda) and sneaking out again. Props to Tarantino for making no secret of his love for film and for the Hollywood glory days – and for putting his money and reputation where his mouth is.
But now that the hype is over and the nearly-three-hour movie is out, how is the film itself?
I went to see a matinee on the final day of 2015, and was a little surprised to find the theater nearly empty. It was opening weekend, after all. By the time the previews were rolling, there were perhaps 30 people total in attendance.
If I may be so bold as to skip to the punch line of this review (for those who lack the patience to wade through my verbiage), the movie is very much a Tarantino movie, which is to say: rich, rambling dialog, over-the-top performances, cringe-inducing violence, heavily profane/racist language, and at least one envelope-pushing moment of cinematic shock-and-awe that effectively inspired the more squeamish/prudish elements of the audience to head for the exit. In other words, if you already like Tarantino films, you know exactly what you will get with The Hateful Eight.
As usual, a strong cast has been assembled, but there were a few standouts. As potentially iconic as Kurt Russell’s appearance is, it is Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins and Samuel L. Jackson that earned the lion’s share of my praise in this film. Not that the rest of the cast are inferior; they definitely all put in great work. Russell plays a post-Civil War Era bounty hunter who is bringing Jason Leigh’s character into Red Rock, Wyoming to face the hangman’s noose and collect his reward. They can’t make it to Red Rock ahead of a nasty blizzard, so they end up holing up in a haberdashery several miles outside of town, to wait the blizzard out. There are other travelers who are forced to make the same play, and Russell is paranoid that one or more of them may somehow be in league with Jason Leigh, in order to kill Russell and set her free. Thus, the cast has a very tense time ahead of it, and as viewers that means we do as well.
That’s the set-up. What remains is the meaty dialog and the violence… in spades.
Jennifer Jason Leigh turns in a powerhouse performance, and really shows off her formidable acting chops, going toe-to-toe with the rest of the stellar cast, and coming out on top. Walton Goggins is already a favorite of mine due to his outstanding work on one of my favorite TV shows, Justified, where he plays the shows’ main antagonist, Boyd Crowder. He ended up getting substantially more screen time than I’d thought he would, and held the screen with strength. And I’m sure some will say this may be the best performance of Samuel L Jackson‘s career.
Of course it helps to have such incredible dialog to work with. Quentin is very generous with his serving size, and definitely does not believe in the “less is more” approach to dialog. As an actor myself, I envy every member of this cast. It must have been a true joy to get to play with such meaty, substantial dialog. Sam Jackson has several memorable monologues, including a soon-to-be-infamous story he tells to Bruce Dern’s character that caused a couple in front of me to leave the theater in disgust.
Of course, Quentin is also not shy about having overtly racist characters and dialog. I have to admit, I really don’t like this aspect of his movies. The profanity I can roll with. The wildly bloody violence I can squint my way through. But the blatant racist language I find thoroughly unappealing. As much as I love Tarantino, as a writer, his fascination with overtly racist characters is puzzlement to me. I can’t help but think, “Quentin could literally create any type of story he wishes and it will get green-lit. Why does he gravitate toward that type of content?”
Shifting gears, the visuals were nice, but nowhere near as spectacular as I was expecting, especially after such a point was made of his insistence on filming in 70mm. Going in, I paid special attention to the exterior shots, anticipating a little jaw-dropping. The outdoor shots were nice when used, but nothing to write home about (besides, the vast bulk of the film takes place indoors). Granted, I didn’t see the film on a 70mm projector, so maybe in that regard I cannot fully speak to it.
Other points of concern: There were some pacing issues, story structure foibles and other story-telling elements that felt off. The script might have benefited from an additional fresh pair of eyes or two before production. The soundtrack was the usual Tarantino eclectic mix – some great choices, some head-scratchers.
Bottom Line: It’s a good film, with plenty to like about it, but it certainly isn’t Tarantino’s best effort. I’d give the film a 7.5 out of 10. Come for the dialog, stay for the performances, but overlook the excesses.
[Ed: Many thanks to David Wagner for this outstanding review. You can read his blog at My Little Corner of the World, you can see David in Origin: Beyond The Impact, you can hear our interview with him (and the full cast of BTi) on our episode TG Geeks Episode 33, as well as our interview with him (and fellow BTi cast member Travis Osland) in TG Geeks Episode 44.]