The Hateful Eight is the work of an overly confident filmmaker who has become overly fond of his own voice, an admittedly talented voice whose talent is lost in this excessively long and derivative faux homage to the spaghetti western that can only make one wonder if Tarantino himself has becoming nothing more than a cinematic one-trick pony whose directorial style has become more about shock n' offend than actually producing anything of substance and value.
There is so much potential in The Hateful Eight that it's downright painful to watch Tarantino squander an exceptionally game cast hindered by a simplistic and mean-spirited script that meanders its way around some semblance of a point like a befuddled cowpoke lost in a blinding snowstorm.
Tarantino shot the film on super-wide film stock utilizing the very same lenses used to the wide landscapes of Khartoum and the equally memorable It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. A longtime advocate for the use of film over digital, Tarantino's approach is admirable but basically pointless as a good majority of the film takes place in a single room where the only real use for a wide lens would be for Minnie's decidedly pronounced backside and Major Marquis Warren's (Samuel L. Jackson) announced to be profound front side.
I think you know what I mean.
The Minnie in question is, well um, Minnie. She's the proud owner of Minnie's Haberdashery, a replenisher of goods for weary travellers along the Wyoming countryside during this time period just after the Civil War. In this case, it's also a source of shelter from the storm as a blizzard has arrived on the plains just as bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is transporting a fugitive murderer named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the nearby Red Rock for a hangin' - her own. The two, plus their stagecoach driver, encounter a couple of soon to be frozen drifters, Major Warren and the self-proclaimed soon to be Red Rock Sheriff Mannix (Walton Goggins), and they all end up arriving at Minnie's warmly greeted by Bob (Demian Bichir) and alongside the likes of Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) and, of course, some other surprises along the way.
While Star Wars: The Force Awakens has, at least for most people, lived up to its exhausting year-long hype, The Hateful Eight makes one wish that Tarantino had gone through with his threat to abandon the project last year after the script was leaked on the internet. I'm not quite sure what damage the internet leak could have done given that Tarantino's seemingly favorite word, the "n" word as those of us with any degree of respect and social responsibility call it, is dropped in what feels like an even more excessive fashion than it was in the slavery-themed Django Unchained, a modestly superior film in most every way.
The Hateful Eight feels like a mishmash of half-developed ideas that likely popped into Tarantino's brain, made him laugh and landed on paper in a fashion that was likely just as jarring as it is for us, the viewers, now as we sit through a self-congratulating overture, intermission and, yes, a 187-minute film including all of it. Fortunately, most viewers won't experience Tarantino at his most self-indulgent given that the general release version of the film is a mere 167 minutes in length. I've had relationships end quicker than 167 minutes.
In case you've forgotten, "187" is the police code in Detroit and California for a murder call. Tarantino, man, you're killin' us smalls.
In case you're already dismissing this review as written by a Tarantino hater, I can assure you that's not the case. There's no question that Tarantino is a talented filmmaker with a unique and passionate voice. I admire Tarantino's devotion to both the craft of filmmaking and the history of cinema. Heck, I'm not even bothered by his nearly relentless devotion to adding his own unique stamp while shamelessly borrowing from those filmmakers he most admires. At his worst, Tarantino is just so dang watchable that it's nearly impossible to not like the guy.
But, Hateful Eight is just plain exhausting despite an invigorating and inspired score, or at least part of the score, from spaghetti western legend Ennio Morricone, and a clearly inspired cast that seems to tap into Tarantino's spirit even when that spirit wanders all over the place spitting up blood like a Bukowski alcohol-fueled poetic rant on loneliness and the vile nature of man.
It's exhausting to watch D.P. Robert Richardson's beautiful yet uninspired shots of a relentless blizzard that never really do anything other than remind us why we're stuck watching this exhausting ensemble that in real life would have likely killed each other in the first 15 minutes of meeting.
It's exhausting to watch the almost Clue-like dialogue that sounds good but goes nowhere and feels almost stunningly out of place much of the time.
It's exhausting to watch even a relatively short scene involving Major Warren and his imaginative recounting of an encounter with a certain General's son that is played out before our eyes in graphic yet horribly realized fashion.
It's exhausting to hear the almost relentless and mean-spirited comments, name-calling, spewing forth of the "n" word and more along with Tarantino's insistence on inflicting an unfathomable amount of violence against Daisy that is likely justified in his mind by the fact she's supposed to be a murderer here. Ya know?
I wouldn't mind being exhausted watching The Hateful Eight if it all actually added up to something or said something or, for that matter, even just managed to entertain me somehow. I mean, really. I consider Schindler's List to be one of the greatest films of all-time and it completely wore me out to the point that I may never watch it again.
The Hateful Eight isn't a successful homage precisely because Tarantino simply can't get himself out of the way. It's as if Michael Moore decided to make a spaghetti western but couldn't stop reminding you that he was making the spaghetti western. Eventually, you just don't want spaghetti anymore. Tarantino has the elements of a mighty fine spaghetti western here, including top notch performances from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins along with the usual fine performances from Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell, but the film is so wildly disjointed and inconsistent and thematically chaotic that even that even when Channing Tatum shows up and starts hamming it up enough that he could be served as the main course for Christmas dinner it feels like Tarantino has just added yet another random thought that popped into his brain.
There will be those of you who will love The Hateful Eight. I have no doubt that some, especially Tarantino's most hardcore fans, will be enchanted by his vivid imagery and the illusion of masterful storytelling. There will be those who argue, perhaps even accurately, that Tarantino isn't glorifying the violence in The Hateful Eight but also not dismissing the necessity of showing it.
So be it. More power to you.
The only thing we're missing is a bear playing Humpty Dumpty with Leonardo DiCaprio. I guess we'll save that for another film.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic