Quentin Tarantino is the type of filmmaker who, even when he isn’t at his very best, still makes films that intrigue and excite. This can be said of The Hateful Eight, the director’s latest feature, his eighth in total, which has a lot to love in places and is sorely lacking in others.
The film could be best described as Agatha Christie meets John Ford, with a story that focuses on a group of strangers being brought together as they take shelter from a blizzard, in a post Civil War Wyoming. Playing out as a mystery, each person has a reason for being out in the wilderness, which may or may not be connected to the transportation of notorious criminal, Daisy Domergue, who is on her way to be hanged.
A large part of The Hateful Eight, is spent trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle. When we’re introduced to the characters at the beginning of the film, there’s a focus on their eyes – especially those of Samuel L. Jackson, who has the most incredible emotive eyes of any actor working today – as they constantly throw each other a sneaky glance. You get the sense that each character is trying to work out the other in these looks, something that we as an audience try to do in turn.
However, the most interesting thing about The Hateful Eight isn’t the mystery. In truth, as the story begins to unravel over the course of its bloated three-hour running time, it offers very few surprises and borders on the predictable – especially for anybody who has ever seen one of the director’s previous works.
Luckily, the racially charged elements of the picture are its saving grace. Like Tatantino’s previous effort, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight is steeped in racial politics and doesn’t shy away from the terminology used in such times. Taking place just after the Civil War, with the wounds on both sides still fresh, Tarantino brings the divide between black and white people to the forefront, with his characters at one point literally dividing their refuge into places where the South and North can go.
When the focus lies solely on this aspect, The Hateful Eight is fascinating and thrilling. Despite being primarily set in one location, these wider themes that Tarantino deals with make the film feel like a sweeping, grandiose American-epic. At those times it feels like The Hateful Eight could just be a masterpiece, but unfortunately it isn’t.
If you were to compare to the director’s previous works, it would be best described as Django Unchained meets Reservoir Dogs, and, in a sense, that’s part of the problem. If anybody can make a film that simultaneously feels like an independent first feature and a confident crowd-pleaser at the same time, it’s Tarantino.
He almost manages to pull it off here. From the opening credits, which sees a stagecoach travel through the ice cold landscapes of Wyoming, accompanied by a haunting and evocative score by the legendary Ennio Morricone, the film feels huge in scale. By the film’s final act, or rather final two chapters, it feels a lot smaller and flat in comparison to everything that has come before it.
As talk of the Civil War begins to disappear and the focus shifts toward the story of Daisy Domergue, The Hateful Eight falls more in line with what you’d expect from Tarantino’s early movies. There are shoot-outs, double crosses and a lot of blood, but somehow this all feels less exciting than the politics of the piece.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of fun to be had. The over the top violence, blood and sinew that begins to fly in the final forty-minutes, turns the film into an exploitative b-movie that is very much Tarantino. There’s no denying that this work is one of an autuer, with the trademark dialogue, use of non-diegetic music, and a free for all attitude which feels like it doesn’t give a shit, but at the same times feels equally self-conscious.
For any fan of the director, The Hateful Eight won’t leave you disappointed. It has all the elements of his previous pictures, as well as some truly brilliant performances from its cast – the stand out being Walton Goggins as a hillbilly and future sheriff, Chris Mannix.
Is it Quentin Tarantino’s best film to date? Not by any means, although there are moments where it comes quite close. Its length is in much need of a trim and the constant shift between themes and narrative points lets the film down. That said, even mid-level Tarantino is better than most as the top of their game.
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