With Tarantino’s films there is and always will be questions left waiting for audiences to debate…the ambiguity to each film is a by-product of the effortless world this enigmatic filmmaker assembles. Here, in the quasi-western The Hateful Eight, it is no different. Fans of Tarantino will once again relish the trademarks of lengthy dialogue, nostalgic purity and lashes of cartoonish violence that come part and parcel with his name on the poster. However, The Hateful Eight at times struggles to dovetail between its fiendish collection of characters, to the film’s occasional dramatic detriment.
Bounty hunter John ‘the hangman’ Ruth, (Kurt Russell) is carrying criminal Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to her sentencing. Arriving at Minnie’s Haberdashery where they are forced to stay whilst a blizzard rages through the Wyoming winter, the film takes its cue from thereon, largely taking place in the single room. Running at 187 minutes including a 20 minute interval, it meanders through swathes of indulgent chatter that only Tarantino can make riveting. Former military man turned bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is the beating heart of the film, conducting the pace and turning points of the action as it gradually descends into chaos. Lovers of the director’s 1998 picture Jackie Brown will find similarities in the pulpy nature that grounds The Hateful Eight, indeed, some might even find the latter less effective in respect to its unevenness. Yet in Jackie Brown we had the stylings of a murky world of greed and entrapment, whilst Tarantino’s latest is underpinned by the mysteries arising from the characters and situation. Deliberative with a plot that unfolds with mixed results, the film does not keep one guessing as much as it keeps them waiting. It is a film that has to be measured in these respects and this is why it feels uneven as a finished product…whilst the characters are expertly crafted and wonderfully acted, the various strands of conversation and overly deliberate provocations that hover throughout are all a little short sighted with respect to the bigger picture. Tarantino has never been the filmmaker to go to for fast-paced storytelling and conventional structure, but the balancing act of the elements he injects into film often test one’s persistence instead of teasing their sensibilities.
Too frequently does it feel like Tarantino has been reading from his own book of tricks. The seven minute overture, use of 35mm film and chapters are a few examples. Seduced into the planet of Tarantino for the eighth time, one is all too willing to dive wholeheartedly into the director’s ‘cinematic cinema’. Shot for widescreen by cinematographer Robert Richardson yet taking place largely in one room is the kind of irony from Tarantino that evokes a wry smile because of the eventual successful deployment. Close ups, used plentifully, look serene and detailed. The overture sets the feel and tone of the film like a tuning process, and every aspect of the sandbox is geared into the right place for the film to play with. It is just a little too busy in the wrong places, a little too Tarantino for its own sake, begetting things that are not even necessary for the film’s own sake. To add fuel to a debate that it is all too urgent, neither Jackson or Russell got nominated for a ‘Best Actor’ Oscar. However, this is vindicated through the nomination of Jennifer Jason Leigh, the only female of the eight. A hissing, snarling creature of amorality, she relishes the despicable Daisy Domergue with a searing performance of tenacity and villainy.
Three hours of runtime is lengthy by any stretch, but The Hateful Eight does deserve credit for making it go by nicely. He may be reading his own book, but Tarantino’s ability to create people the audience actually wants to spend time with is still as strong as ever. This is a film that arrives at mixed results, simply because what is going on is tantamount to what actually happens. It spends its time pondering, working through things between characters that are on occasion concluded in a way that undercooks the tempo of the film rather than adding fuel to a fire that in the end, does burn with brightness. The Hateful Eight is a solid film, but it is an investment, an exercise rather than the expected barnstormer.