Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh
While en-route to the town of Red Rock in post-Civil-war Wyoming, bounty hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Russell) and his fugitive prisoner (Leigh) encounter another bounty hunter (Jackson) and a man who claims to be the new sheriff (Walton Goggins) who both (after a lot of chinwag) join them. Forced to take shelter by a severe blizzard, all four stop at a remote building known as Minnie’s Haberdashery where four other men are currently also taking shelter, as the night goes on and secrets are revealed, it emerges that all eight may well not survive the night.
I know I am very late to the party when it comes to reviewing Tarantino’s latest, but only in the very rarest of occasions am I ever going to be willing to spend four hours of my time (film running time + trailers + adverts + time travelling to and from cinema) on any film, especially the latest from a director I am not a fan of anyway.
So I waited for it to come out on Blu-ray and rented it, and of course watched with a completely open mind (!). Well, criticising a Tarantino film for being too long is of course an obvious and easy criticism to make, but there is no getting away from the fact that a film has to do something rather special to justify asking the viewer to part with at least 186 minutes of their precious time to watch it. I do not personally have a problem with a film being any particular running time (my top 10 films of 2014 featured a film four and a half hours long and a film over three house long at number one). However, The Hateful Eight is simply nowhere near good enough in terms of both the quality of its story or its character development to justify its excessive and baggy running time, and so to use this as a foundation of criticism is certainly more than justified.
The running time of The Hateful Eight also leads to feelings of frustration, as if this were a much shorter film (say, a good hour shorter) then it would have probably been great fun instead of an often laborious viewing experience. The reason for this is that this film is (and it honestly gives me no pleasure or satisfaction in writing this) textbook Tarantino in that there are many flashes of brilliance that are just severely let down by his hubristic self-indulgence as a filmmaker.
There are so many individual moments of great, snappy dialogue and some great individual scenes that are either genuinely tense or indeed side-splittingly funny, proving that Tarantino has the potential ability to nail any tone or genre if he so wishes. Likewise the film is often very aesthetically pleasing; there are some stunning shots of the snowy landscape in the film’s initial scenes, while the lighting, cinematography and set design are also spot on for the interior scenes (which is basically the last two hours of the film). Tarantino’s main coup is of course pulling off the minor miracle of getting Ennio Morricone to compose an original score (maybe the maestro was just fed up with Tarantino stealing his old compositions and thought “sod it, I will just give you some original stuff”), and Morricone’s score is exceptional, and he fully deserves his Oscar win.
The film’s other saving grace is the cast that Tarantino has assembled; they (along with Morricone) basically stop the film from disappearing completely up Tarantino’s arse and undoubtedly make the film more watchable than indeed it deserves to be at times, and also their characters slightly more interesting than Tarantino’s dialogue deserves them to be. In particular Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern and Tim Roth (outrageous accent) are extremely watchable as they all share some great on-screen chemistry in various scenes that they share and certainly deliver their dialogue with suitable relish.
However, these great performances only save the film somewhat as the fundamental problem is that The Hateful Eight just does not have the substance to match its abundance of style. Despite the fact Tarantino has a full 186 minutes to flesh out the characters and his plot, neither are actually that interesting, making so many scenes (and indeed the entire film) redundant, pointless and frustrating.
The structure of the plot, with its chapter headings and lazy, occasionally used voice over is just severely lacking, with the supposed ‘revelations’ lacking any real punch. Likewise the characters themselves all lack any real genuine depth, and once again revelations about individual character’s backstories are either painfully obvious or a total anti-climax, meaning none of them are particularly interesting. This is all renders so many of the dialogue heavy scenes where dialogue is repeated and said painfully slowly between various characters as totally pointless filler.
Some have mentioned the potentially political undertones of some of the dialogue (particularly that between Jackson and Dern), now I am certainly no expert on the exact politics of the time of this film, but given that the whole film lacks any real substance, I doubt there is that much to these moments, just Tarantino using it as an opportunity to put even more swear words in his dialogue.
Of course this being a Tarantino film, we get stupidly over the top violence; there is less violence than some of his other films here, but when it comes it is irritatingly over the top, and its unnecessary inclusion only further undermines the good parts of the film.
In fact, as much as the alliterative title rolls off the tongue nicely, it could certainly be argued that it isn’t actually correct. To explain why would mean potentially venturing into spoiler territory, but it could certainly be argued there are more than eight main characters, or indeed one not on the poster plays a more important role than one on the poster. Either way, the fact I was thinking about this while watching the film, means it is obviously failing on several levels, and was ultimately three hours of my life wasted.
With his longest running time yet, we get with depressing predictability the usual mixture of Tarantino showing us his best and worst qualities as a film maker; for all its great individual moments The Hateful Eight just has too many negative aspects to be worth 3 hours of anyone’s time. Never before has the ‘skip chapter’ button justified its existence quite so much.