Chapter One: The Huckster’s Reintroduction
To be fair, Quentin Tarantino has never been anything other than transparent about his convictions. He is an unabashed recycler, a self-aggrandizing showman, a virulent jabber jaw. He is a cinematic con artist of the highest order, taking all the influences that swirl in his head, buffeted by the blizzard winds of his grindhouse-soiled psyche, and spilling them out onto the screen with only the barest hint of deeper introspection. Much as he loves the gamesmanship of movie narrative, from the pleasure of imposing subversion onto the inane to the flawed puzzle box of displaced chronology, he has a far more slippery grasp on actual meaning, on film’s ability to reveal deeper truths, especially in wisely built genre exercises. With his latest effort, The Hateful Eight, he regales his audience with surfaces pleasures, including the replication of a bygone sensationalism last employed some fifty years ago, when movie studios were frantically trying to compete against the still-surging medium of television. A passel of theaters took the extra step to project The Hateful Eight in 70mm, all the better to showcase the elegant Panavision cinematography of Robert Richardson. Souvenir booklets were dispensed at the door. Tarantino presided over an event, but it’s spectacle with a hollow ring.
Chapter Two: Complications Enter
The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s crack at a Hollywood western with hearty dollops of modern brutality flung at it. The film can be seen as a spiritual successor to Django Unchained, with the timeframe shifted to the other side of the Civil War. As the film begins, a bounty hunter who goes by the nickname the Hangman (Kurt Russell) is transporting wanted criminal Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by stagecoach, determined to collect a lucrative reward. His notion to keep the journey free of intrusive fellow travelers is dashed when he relents to providing rides to fellow bounty hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and a former Confederate fighter (Walton Goggins) who claims to be the newly hired sheriff of the very town where Daisy must be delivered.
Chapter Three: The Prolonged Set Piece
A massive snowstorm requires a stop at an output called Minnie’s Haberdashery, which is absent of the usual proprietor and her crew. Instead, the modest shack is populated by a small batch of curious fellows (some played by Tarantino’s repertory crew members Tim Roth and Michael Madsen) also sidelined by the weather, although suspicions rise quickly. The bulk of the film is set in and around this space, with the Hangman repeatedly asserting his distrust (occasionally calling to mind, perhaps deliberately, Russell’s previous instance of ascertaining possible veiled evil in a snowbound space) and the remaining characters sparking off each other in various ways. Meant to be a showcase for Tarantino’s dense, ornate writing, there’s instead a complete lack of tension. It is a redundant grind, revealing Tarantino’s limitations rather than playing to his strengths. Even the use of language, usually the filmmaker’s trump card, is blunted and drab. In particular, his reliance on racist and misogynistic language reaches a new low. Even though it’s appropriate to the era and the situation, characters pepper the words in so frequently it’s as if Tarantino has mistaken them for commas. Putting foul, bigoted words into the mouths of characters doesn’t mean a writer is foul or bigoted, but it’s difficult to encounter the waterfall of spiteful crudities offered up here and not suspect that they’re in place because Tarantino gets off on the harshly dismissed decorum of it all.
Chapter Four: Tarantino’s Got a Compulsion
In general, The Hateful Eight finds Tarantino pushing into some ugly territory. Reminiscent of Lars von Trier’s slippery slide from bleakly honest chronicler of human failing to borderline sadist taking apparent joy in tearing fictional lives apart, Tarantino’s lurid fascination with revenge stories forged in the infernos of the darkest ids is starting to infest nearly every bit of his creativity. There’s barely a breath of recognizable humanity in the film, leaving the characters as bowling pins set up only to be knocked down. Tarantino’s eagerness is as apparent as ever, but it’s now in the service of shockingly empty material. The former innovator increasingly looks like one of his dire imitators from the late nineteen-nineties.
Chapter Five: The Wandering Timeline
Part of Tarantino’s rut stems from his adherence to signatures that have outlived their usefulness. Though his willingness to subvert expectations in how time moves in a narrative has served the work well in the past, the point that The Hateful Eight doubles back exemplifies the film’s problems. It is another set piece, stirred into being by Tarantino’s fascination with the mechanics of brewing trouble. It also contributes practically nothing to the greater film, answering questions that weren’t worth asking and not answering them in a particular compelling way, at that. It doesn’t help matters that the sequence also features the typical Tarantino blind spot of including bad acting by a person he thinks is bad ass in real life. In this case, Zoë Bell, who Tarantino has been admirably devoted to ever since she served as Uma Thurman’s stunt double for the Kill Bill films, strides through her moments like a cartoon rabbit. Even in a film full of acting ratcheted up to extreme levels, Bell’s work is jarringly out of place, undermining what little seriousness still remains in the scene.
Chapter Six: Black and White and Red All Over
The Hateful Eight has plenty of mayhem. It also has nothing that gives the orchestrated gruesomeness any purpose. Tarantino has emptied out his slop bucket and left only a mess. Perhaps the only argument the film effectively makes is that the marauding can only go on for so long before it just gets tired.