Samuel L. Jackson portrays the bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren in Quentin Tarantino’s 8th film, The Hateful Eight. “Let’s slow it down,” he says at one point, while aiming his revolver at other characters. “Let’s slow it way down.”
And that’s not the first time the film has expressed that sentiment. The movie practically opens with Kurt Russell’s John Ruth, handcuffed to a valuable wanted prisoner, telling Warren to move “molasses-like.” Then the film itself drudges through difficult, snowy terrain towards Minnie’s Haberdashery, where the bulk of the plot unfolds.
As if from Tarantino’s typical anachronistic, modern pop film soundtracks, Leonard Cohen’s Slow pops into my head:
I’m slowing down the tune
I never liked it fast
You want to get there soon
I want to get there last
Throughout his last album, Cohen successfully expresses that getting older and moving slower doesn’t necessarily mean one has to be any less cool. Tarantino’s statement in The Hateful Eight is something different. After Django Unchained won many awards, and became Tarantino’s most financially successful film thus far, it looks like the executives in charge gave Tarantino free rein to do whatever he wants. Thus The Hateful Eight takes forever to get started. The older-than-average cast, and a writer-director who’s already claimed to be nearing retirement at an alarming pace (he has said he’ll only make two more films), makes you wonder whether this film is too old for its own good.
Thirty-five minutes into the film, the first four characters have finally been introduced, and their relationships thoroughly established through back-and-forth chatting, and they finally arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery. It’s typical Tarantino dialogue scenes, so it’s much more intriguing than it could’ve been in someone else’s hands, but it’s still overlong, unnecessary, and self-indulgent.
Then, the first four gets introduced to four more, and we finally get why the film is called The Hateful Eight: Eight relatively unsavoury characters (and one prisoner) is trapped together in the Haberdashery because of a blizzard. Or is that eight unsavoury characters and one coach driver? [It’s actually very unclear who the title refers to, since there’s nine characters in the Haberdashery. If the film’s character posters are to believed, it’s O.B., the coach driver, who doesn’t count.] Eight people with questionable morals are trapped in a small building with one prisoner who’s worth $10 000. Naturally, trouble is brewing. It turns into a bit of a whodunnit mystery, where one-by-one, characters are killed, and their morals and motives are revealed.
The Hateful Eight is like Reservoir Dogs
So far, the plot summary might sound a lot like Tarantino’s first feature, Reservoir Dogs. I’ve always accepted Reservoir Dogs as somewhat limited by budget. And it’s because of this fact that it’s a very unique movie: It’s a heist movie where the heist is never seen. There’s one or two running-from-cops scenes, but it mostly focuses, Waiting for Godot-like, on the jewel bandits waiting in their cooldown hideout for the boss – and answers – to arrive. Meanwhile, we find out someone is a traitor, and the gang’s paranoia is the film’s focus for most of its running time. It’s a great breakout film, but you can’t help but wonder if it could’ve been even better with a bigger budget. Maybe The Hateful Eight answers that question. Maybe not. But maybe Tarantino has finally gone so far with his remake/remix/homage filmmaking style that he’s starting to re-adapt his own – a filmmaking phoenix, if you will.
The Hateful Eight is like Django Unchained
Yup. There are some similarities between this and Tarantino’s most successful flick. Actually, the film was first conceived as a paperback sequel novel to Django Unchained – called Django in White Hell. I’d bet it would actually be worth rewatching Hateful Eight, with the though that Samuel L Jackson might have been playing an older Django. There’s less race issues, no slavery, and no revenge (a new turn for Tarantino, following his previous four “roaring rampage of revenge” flicks).
The Hateful Eight is like Four Rooms
Four Rooms is an anthology film – four directors each made a short film sized segment of the story. The final segment, The Man from Hollywood, directed by Tarantino, is structured like a joke. And just like the whole film, it slowly builds up to a ridiculous climax. It’s here that you really realise what Tarantino is amazing at – building up tension, and then releasing it with a bang. The bulk of the tension is built by the actors’ performances. It is perfectly placed as the final act of the anthology, with bellboy protagonist Ted having been through hell already, and the ridiculous situation seems believable and almost tame in comparison with the rest. And it’s in this control of tension and suspense where The Hateful Eight really blooms.
But ultimately, The Hateful Eight is plenty original. Tarantino finally persuaded Ennio Morricone to write an original score for one of his films. For the first time in about 13 years, Tarantino made a film that isn’t centered around revenge. It’s a strong homage to classic Westerns, but it has some Tarantinoesque modernism mixed in. Like the depiction of a story within the story that Major Warren tells, where the filmmaker cuts back and forth between narrative and storyteller and audience, with the lines between somewhat blended. The film has humour and unexpected twists. Memorable juxtapositions, like a violent story being told while another character plays a hodgepodge, mistake-laden version of Silent Night on the piano.
And then Quentin Tarantino himself interjects. Literally.
Like the yellow title over black at the start of the film that clearly and boldly brands The Hateful Eight as “The 8th film by Quentin Tarantino”, we’re supposed to understand who’s telling us this story. But if there was any uncertainty about this, Tarantino uses his own distinctive voice as a omniscient narrator about halfway through the film. He uses phrases like “our characters”, and mostly literally describes what we’re seeing on screen, and is therefore completely unwarranted and cosmetic – mostly an excuse to make another Tarantino in-joke reference to Red Apple cigarettes, and remind viewers of the director’s celebrity auteur status.
The Hateful Eight is a lot of things. It’s a typical Tarantino film, through-and-through. It’s super-stylised, funny, suspenseful, and very entertaining. But it might be very hard for anyone other than Tarantino aficionados to take. Or at least to last past the first hour. It’s a mexican standoff of a film and a must-see for fans, but ultimately might be a sign of Tarantino taking things too far.
PS. Does this movie’s poor box office performance prove that most people aren’t as excited by celluloid and 70mm as Quentin Tarantino?