From the arse of Quentin Tarantino comes the interminable indulgence of The Hateful Eight
In the same amount of time it takes Richard Linklater to show the formative years of a young boy in Texas, it takes Quentin Tarantino to do absolutely nothing. The Hateful Eight, the first Tarantino film since the fun but overlong Django Unchained, is a crushing disappointment. With few memorable performances, quotable lines, or great set pieces, this simply isn’t up to par with the majority of Tarantino’s filmography. As sad as it is to say, The Hateful Eight plumbs the depths of Death Proof.
The film’s meagre plot is in no way helped by the three hour runtime. Hangman John Ruth (Kurt Russell, a fun performance if not the big comeback you’d hope for) is travelling across the country with outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar-nominated for her pretty good performance) when their horse-and-carriage is stopped by a man stood atop three frozen corpses: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson on top form as he usually is for Tarantino). The three travel together, the interminable dialogue concerning the Civil War, Domergue’s crimes, and Warren’s prized possession, a letter from Abraham Lincoln. Further on, they pick up another traveller; bumbling hillbilly and all-round irritant Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins, mostly wasted in a comedy role), who has a racial gripe with Warren and claims to be the new Sherriff of small town Red Rock.
The first hour of the film, in which the four companions talk to each other as they ride slowly through the snowy landscape, is really not much good at all. Feeling more like a filmed play than an epic 70mm film, it would be fine if Tarantino’s dialogue was on the level of Pulp Fiction’s Ezekiel 25:17 speech, or Inglourious Basterds’ opening interrogation. Sadly, it falls way, way short. Waffling on and on and on for nearly sixty minutes is just too much, especially when there isn’t a single quotable line, or an underlying sense of tension.
Once Tarantino decides to actually get on with the story, the four travellers make it to Minnie’s Haberdashery (all the character names and locations are genius, in fairness to the director), where they meet the second half of the titular twats. These characters are slightly livelier, even though there are no Hans Landas, Butch Coolidges, or Calvin Candies. Bob (Demian Bechier, entertaining but not nearly present enough) is the man who has apparently been left in charge while Minnie is away. Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth, having tremendous amounts of fun in the sort of role Christoph Waltz has been playing recently) claims to be the local hangman. Joe Gage (Michael Madsen, nothing to say about his performance really) is the silent, sinister type. Finally, there’s Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern, terrific), an old Civil War general with a grudge against Marquis Warren. The eight settle in to wait for a blizzard to pass by; slowly, each becomes more suspicious that each person is not who they say they are.
Maybe I’ve just had enough of Tarantino’s style over the last decade, but The Hateful Eight felt completely stale. Remember when you first saw Pulp Fiction and it hit you like a shotgun blast, and you were amazed by this cocky, stylish young talent with a script full of classic lines, classic characters, and endless cool? The Hateful Eight might just be the antithesis of that. Obviously, Tarantino is too knowledgeable and talented to make a film with no quality whatsoever. Jennifer Jason Leigh is given a comeback role as notable (if not as interesting) as John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, while Samuel L. Jackson gives his best performance since Django Unchained (which was his best performance since Pulp Fiction, funnily enough).
Tarantino has never had a problem directing actors, but as his career has gone along, he’s grown even more loving of his own dialogue without having the creativity and flourish to make us want to listen to him for three hours. The film hits the same beats he’s already hit in his previous films, but the feeling of shock and awe has disappeared. Where heads exploding was bold and funny in Pulp Fiction, here it just feels gratuitous and unpleasant. Casual misogyny made us feel something throughout Inglourious Basterds; here, we’re asked to root for a bunch of absolute arseholes who don’t get any less obnoxious after 160 minutes in their company. The film may be called The Hateful Eight, but did Quentin really have to make his characters so hateful you get sick of being around them?
The Hateful Eight is currently sitting atop the list of ‘Most Disappointing Films of 2016’; it may only be February, but it’s going to be a hard one to top. Rambling, dull, and lacking in any truly gripping set pieces or monologues, the film relies solely on the performances of its extremely talented cast to keep it from sinking entirely. In 1992, Tarantino claimed that David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was proof that the director had disappeared up his own arse. Quentin, it might be time for some self-reflection.
Grade: C- (For Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh alone)
By Harry J. Ford
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