As I sit here typing my thoughts I am listening to the beautiful soundtrack to the film- composed by Ennio Morricone- and it’s like nothing he’s previously done for any other Western that I can think of. It surely seems more in line with some of the Italian Horror and suspense films of the 80’s and 70’s. Upon further research, some of the music is actually recycled from unreleased material in his earlier collaboration with John Carpenter for “The Thing”- which is probably no accident given the subject matter, the tone, and even some of the film’s stars. A friend of mine drew several similarities to the film and I’m probably going to do the same- because this is Tarantino doing the west with the paranoid edge of a noire thriller. These are my thoughts regarding “The Hateful Eight”.
First- it’s hard to ignore the controversy surrounding the film over the past several years. A leak in the production team or amongst Tarantino’s personal circle resulted in the distribution of an early draft on the script- and that release provoked a fury in Tarantino as he withdrew all consideration for even making this film to begin with. Amidst this controversy, Tarantino decided to stage a live reading of the script and this brought him back on board for making the movie. Then he insisted the film be made in 70MM cinescope, which is mostly an all but dead technology in film production. He intended the film be released in a traveling road show for 70mm projection- probably gorgeous, by all accounts, but ultimately received a larger digital distribution with about ten minutes shaved from the time. During press junkets for the films promotion, Tarantino has rankled other film makers with comments toward the makers of “It Follows”, the Disney corporation for the timing of their Star Wars release, the activities of police officers, his liberal usage of some choice terminology in his movies, his decision to probably top at a magic “10” to the total number of films he intends to make throughout his life, and a genuinely bizarre series of encounters that leave most of his fans confused and a little troubled by the writer/director.
And all of this kind of feels a little important when the theater lights come up and the film comes to a close- because this film may be one of the most interesting looks into the mind of the director himself, his technique, and precisely where he sees himself and his legacy in the world of film. Make no mistake about it- this is the most Tarantino film of all his films and yet it’s also the most mature and ambitious project he’s ever tried to tackle. It’s also the most self-indulgent and aggrandizing project and I’m kind of at a loss on where to rank this among his other works.
The story is fairly simple and hearkens back to his beginning with a nod to Reservoir Dogs-minimalism; Eight people in a lonely little outpost along the western trails of Colorado during the dead of winter. John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter looking to collect his pay on a fugitive he’s got chained to his wrist. We know who he is from the outset- grizzled, gruff, and maybe a little sentimental toward the ideals of justice in what he sees as the Land of the Free and Home of the brave. His prisoner, Daizy Domergue (Jenniver Jason Leigh), is a foul mouthed tramp that is most likely due for the gallows rope once Ruth brings her in. Along the road they come across a Civil War Northern veteran who now makes his living as a bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and the son of a famous Southern General claiming to be the new Sheriff of Red Rock (Walton Goggins).
The sparks are already flying between the four as driver O.B. eventually steers them up to that old Outpost (amusingly called “Minnie’s Haberdashery”; it doesn’t take long to find out why) and the rest of the ensemble cast. Are they all just innocent men trying to wait out the blizzard, or are some of these men here to help out the wild gal in Ruth’s custody? Tarantino maintains a slow broil throughout the film and uses the freezing cold of winter to crank up the heat. And when things happen it’s sudden, explosive, violent, and absolutely no one is safe or innocent. And I’m sure everyone is going on and on about Jackson and Russell- rightfully so! They’re amazing!
But there are two break out performances in this movie beyond what we might expect. The first is Jennifer Jason Leigh’s dark little turn as the vindictive Minnie. Leigh hasn’t seen much in the way of a prominent role since the early 90’s, but she really sizzles here and is worth the price of admission all alone. And the second performance comes from Walton Goggins, a familiar character actor you’ve seen coming from ten miles away in a number of different films where he’s often playing the same old role- most notably in “The Shield” and “Justified”; he’s often typecast as the Southern Redneck-type and it really plays to our expectations. Here he plays to his strength with some interesting turns and performances along the way- is he really the sheriff or is he something darker? I found myself constantly on the edge of my seat throughout the course of the film- even if the seat did start to feel a little too well worn by the three hour mark.
I really want to give the film a five out of five, but the three hours and a couple of scenes just started to knock a few points off- because while the film is truly a great thing, it is also very much a case where “art for art’s sake” is a bit too presumptuous.
4.5 out of 5.