The Hateful Eight ***1/2
One Liner Review:
A pretty cool Tarantino movie, about a bunch of killers either on the way to, or stuck inside of a cabin during a blizzard.
Another very entertaining and clever film from Tarantino. This is a director who continues to challenge himself, and this time, he not only puts his film in the middle of a blizzard in the days after the end of the Civil War, but then puts most of it inside of a cabin. This is like Reservoir Dogs (a movie set almost entirely in a warehouse,) only with a historical edge. And unlike that film, where everyone was supposedly on the same team, with this one, it’s a bunch of strangers. So that brings to mind movies like Clue and And Then There Were None. It’s a great genre to be playing in, and Tarantino is one of the few directors who can handle it. With this film, as always, his dialogue is impressive. So is his storytelling. The first half of the film is all setup and bubbling tension. The second half is where action and death really get going, and where the movie finds itself really upping the momentum. For Tarantino, this one is another winner.
Quentin Tarantino is a mastermind filmmaker. Like the Coen Brothers, he is absolutely one of the best in business and a pure genius of his craft. His movies are all very different and yet they include a number of common trademarks. Witty and creative dialogue, storytelling told by the characters, themselves, and some brutal violence. Just like in the Kill Bill movies, and Django Unchained, the violence here, in the Hateful Eight, is more campy and over the top than it is realistic. And that’s a good thing. It leads to humor in response to how ridiculously bloody some of the effects and their timing is. This movie will definitely be a turnoff for some. Like the Coen Brothers, Tarantino’s films are not for the casual popcorn viewer. But to be fair to the filmmaker, it is unlikely that any Tarantino movie would fit their liking of the audience who finds this film to be too much. After all, he doesn’t have a single movie on his resume that is not extremely violent. For the Tarantino fan, however, this movie definitely fits right up there on the shelf with his other films.
The Hateful Eight continues a trend that Tarantino started with his last two films. Historical fiction pieces. That means movies set around a certain time period in American history, where the events that were taking place in the background were a major part of not only the setting, but also the story. This all began after Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. Those were his foray into the comic book / superhero world, giving us a character named The Bride, who was certainly a version of the modern day super hero, taking on such feats as cutting down an army of Japanese Yakuza gangsters in a single fight. That movie was Tarantino’s guilty pleasure film, and when he finished making it, (and got it out of his system,) he was ready to turn to more serious fare. Inglorious Basterds was his World War 2 movie. Django Unchained was his slavery movie. And now The Hateful Eight is his Civil War movie. Not a one of these films is actually a battlefield war movie of any kind. Hateful Eight doesn’t even take place during the Civil War, but instead is about the aftermath. Still, that war and where it left the characters becomes a major part of this movie and is constantly weaved in and out of the story that is being told.
At the start of the film we watch a stagecoach pulled by a number of horses and a driver who sits atop, traveling through some snow-covered mountains. The stagecoach stops when a man is standing in their path, blocking the way. This man is Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson,) and he is a well-known bounty hunter in these parts. So is the man traveling in the stagecoach, John Ruth (Kurt Russell,) and he is currently escorting a prisoner to a nearby town known as Red Rock. Only there’s a problem. A blizzard is upon them, and Ruth has made up his mind to take the prisoner to a local inn known as Minnie’s Habadashary, until the blizzard is over. Warren is now requesting a ride. Ruth agrees to give it, but only because he knows of this man, and of his reputation. Warren is a war hero who fought for the north, was imprisoned by the south, and not only escaped, bought blew up the prison and killed a whole bunch of confederate soldiers in the process.
Warren is also known to have been a close pen pal with President Abraham Lincoln. In fact, he carries a letter around with him that was written to him by the president, and helps demonstrate a little bit of Warren’s character. People who know of Warren know of his relationship with the President and of this letter he carries. Ruth asks to see it, and the movie takes its time, allowing us to hear it and learn more about both of these characters. Ruth is infatuated with the letter and the two men are both glad to be riding in each others company. All that mutual happiness begins to change when the prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh,) starts causing a problem. To make matters worse, the stagecoach comes across another man, Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins,) and suddenly Ruth grows incredibly suspicious. He starts to think that maybe Mannix and Warren are working together and plan to steal this prisoner and claim the reward for themselves. The four of them now travel together to Minnie’s Habadashary, not a one of them trusting the others.
If the suspicion and idea of these dangerous characters all stuck in a tight place is evident just from the stagecoach ride, then it gets taken to the next level once they arrive at their destination. Minnie’s Habashary is a small cabin, and the characters spend the rest of the movie together, inside of it, stuck there because of the blizzard. Ruth and Daisy enter first while the other two help attend to the stage coach and what’s going on in the stables. This is a nice move by Tarantino, because it helps isolate the characters inside, so that Ruth can represent the audience’s point of view in meeting each of the new characters, one at a time. There are four new men that we now meet. Bob, The Mexican, the man who is now running the place, Oswaldo Mobray, (Tim Roth,) who is the local hangman, also on his way to Red Rock, Joe Gage, (Michael Madsen,) a man who is quiet and mysterious, and General Sandy Smithers, (Bruce Dern,) an older war veteran. Ruth attempts to speak with each one of them and finds out that only Mobray is very willing to have a bit of a chat.
When Warren gets in, a few moments later, the suspicions start to arise. Warren wonders where Minnie is and how she left a Mexican in charge. He knows her well, has been coming here for years, and knows that she hates Mexicans. Ruth also has his suspicions and makes the claim that “one of these men is not who he says he is.” The first real flaw of the movie is that he is never questioned about this. Not even by the men who he considers allies, such as Warren. Somebody should have asked him what makes him think this. If for nothing else, than because the audience wants to know. Follow a line like that up with some kind of explanation. I suppose the idea is that Ruth is a bounty hunter, and would naturally be suspicious, but then have him just say that. Something like, “I’ve got an inclination, and my intuition on these matters hasn’t failed me yet.” Without any follow-up line, it’s like we’re left hanging. The one redeeming factor to this is that Warren is also suspicious, and he provides us with enough reasons about why for the both of them. These reasons include a very specific sign that used to hang above the bar, and some observations about the stew that is being served to them, and when it might have been made.
Before the suspicions really arise, there is more character development and conflict in the way that some of the men in this cabin are divided based on what side of the war they were on. Ruth and Warren fought for the north. Maddix and Smithers fought for the south. The two of them absolutely despise Warren, in large part because he is black, and are fully aware of the story of him blowing up that Confederate prison. They are also aware of how many northerners were killed that day in the process, and how Lincoln would not have responded to that positively. Warren’s letter is the first thing that is called into question as possibly being forged. Like the way that the stage coach turns into a cabin, and the foreshadowing there, (being in a tight place with a handful of suspicious characters,) the letter and its credibility turns into a suspicion of who certain people in the cabin actually are, and how credibly their stories might actually be.
The movie features chapters, just like many other of Tarantino’s films do, and the chapter that brings us into the second half ends with the first death of a major character. Like most Tarantino movies, it involves some storytelling and some questions about whether or not the story that is being told ever actually did occur. By the time it is over, and one character has been murdered, the real intensity is ready to begin. At this point, there has only been one death, and yet a whole lot of conflict and build-up. The tension is definitely bubbling, and has been for some time now. For Tarantino, this all shows great reservation and restraint. The first half of the film is all about the setup, and to be honest, it’s a little long and a little slow. But once the second half of the movie gets going, with a chapter titled, Domergue’s Got A Secret, it never lets go. The ball starts rolling and it just keeps on going, never looking back.
This chapter is where things really come to life, starting with a narrator telling us some things about the characters, breaking the fourth wall to tell us why this chapter is titled this way, and bringing us back in time to just a few minutes ago, where we get to rewatch a scene, this time, from a whole other angle. This is a move that Tarantino has used before, in films like Jackie Brown with the dressing room scene towards the end. Showing a scene from a completely different point of view to reveal what was happening at the same time as the events that we were watching. It’s a very cool strategy that Tarantino lifted from movies like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and boy does it work. Suspicions now get raised to a heightened level of questioning each character in the place and drawing sides about who can and cannot be trusted. At this point, Warren becomes the main character, taking over that role from Ruth. If Ruth was the main character in the first half, then Warren is certainly the main character in the second half, and the scene where Warren tells a story about the son of Sandy Smithers serves as that transition moment (it is the scene that literally leads us into the second half of the film.)
The movie continues on to feature stand-offs, much like Tarantino’s very first movie, Reservoir Dogs. It also uses a trick of showing us what happened just hours before Ruth and Warren arrived at the cabin. This scene, just like the one that starts that Domergue Has A Secret chapter, brings us back over events that we already saw, from a different angle. Here, it is what happened before we arrived, all the way up to the scene where Ruth and his prisoner do show up and enter the cabin. Suddenly everything becomes very clear, in a mystery reveal kind of way. This is some clever stuff. Tarantino has crafted his first mystery with this film, and he really takes his time to get it right. Some criticism of the movie is that it’s too long and too drawn out, and at about three hours, that criticism definitely warrants some merit. Still, this is a man who needs the time to tell the kind of story he has in mind. Django Unchained was similar in that way. Tarantino’s characters are fully developed and have a lot of back story to them, and all of that comes out, if given the proper amount of time. The second half, where things really get going, is definitely better than the first half, and it kick starts that newfound energy and momentum right. But the first half is pretty cool too, and firmly establishes the characters and their suspicions of each other. This is Tarantino tackling one of the coolest genres of all time, the one-night trapped inside one single location with a bunch of alleged killers, genre. From Rashomon to Clue to And Then There Were None, it’s a genre filled with fantastic movies, and the Hateful Eight earns its place right alongside of them.