The Hateful Eight
Possessed of that signature blend of enveloping dialogue shot through with bursts of viscera-spattered violence there is no doubting that The Hateful Eight is a Quentin Tarantino affair from snowy white beginning to carmine-sprayed end. One part Stagecoachesque road-thriller, two parts single-room whodunit the filmmaker spins a typically engaging yarn with forward thematic threads exploring race and discrimination. If not the strongest entry in his filmography—I’ll let Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown duke it out for that honour—The Hateful Eight IS quality cinema that perhaps best makes sense in the context of Tarantino’s ongoing work.
The film begins on the road with bounty hunter John ‘the hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) transporting mysterious, high value quarry Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the town of Red Rock, bounty firmly in his sights. Unfortunately Ruth’s progress is continually stymied: first by the advent of a blizzard the coach cannot outrun and thereafter by a proliferation of strangers met on the road with apparent transportation problems. The film rumbles along through the stark winter landscape with a growing sense of unease. The constantly shifting interior of the stagecoach serves as the literal stage for several lengthy conversations that build a philosophical framework later explored in Minnie’s Haberdashery, the remote waystation in which the titular Eight are brought together.
Probably more so than with Reservoir Dogs Tarantino obfuscates the truth at every turn. Each main character gets a chance to spin a lengthy tale of interest but at no stage can you vouch for its veracity. Whether true or false all you can say for sure is that each of the Eight attempts to utilise ‘story’ to manipulate and further their own position. In fact one of the few reveals of definite misrepresentation is employed by the filmmaker to directly illustrate a thematic truth! The Hateful Eight may not be aiming for subtlety but Tarantino’s screenplay writing is as smart as ever (despite questionable use of voice-over narration at points, though I must admit that I ended up liking his use of this device).
The major reservation I have about The Hateful Eight is the film’s treatment of its primary female character. I’m not one to be turned off by violence or viscera but I found Daisy Domergue’s utter lack of agency and repeated physical abuse discomforting to watch. We are presented with a character who is apparently to be feared and mistrusted—as is the case with the entire octet—but where the other characters get a chance to background themselves we get virtually nothing of Daisy’s story. ‘She’s a murderer’ we hear from Ruth but she gets no chance to personally confirm the menace implied by the way she is handled. And where others are presented with opportunities to act, she remains constrained, excepting her one significant monologue, which is a purely verbal stratagem. There’s no denying that Tarantino generally has a good track record with interesting female characters, or that all the players in this story are supposed to be despicable. In fact it is remarkable that not a single character who enters the frame is immune from the proliferation of violence in the film. But as a title character it doesn’t even remotely feel like Daisy gets a fair shake at being fully fleshed, rather she is consigned to the role of mistreated plot device, and that irks.
Being a fan of structural patterns I’m always interested to see how Tarantino ties his films together as much as how he integrates his myriad influences within each. In terms of narrative context The Hateful Eight literally does follow on from his previous film Django Unchained: the former being a pre-civil war Western and the latter a post-civil war Western, with echoes of that conflict strongly felt. The explicit chaptering of the film recalls the director’s structuring of revisionist World War II jaunt Inglourious Basterds which also, along with breakout feature Reservoir Dogs, shares a strong demarcated character ensemble. The Mr. <insert colour here>…The Basterds…The Eight. Tarantino always works with ensembles but he periodically returns to explicit crews of characters spun into narrative and relational webs onto which he layers his delicious dialogue. It was also very pleasant to see the return of some notable Tarantino actors of films past. Such as Tim Roth and Michael Madsen who both featured prominently in Reservoir Dogs and recurred in a couple of other features but have not been present in the last few. Death Proof’s Kurt Russell in grizzled bounty hunter mode is a definite bonus as is the elevation of Walton Goggins from bit part in Django Unchained to lead player in The Hateful Eight. Basically Tarantino has consciously threaded his entire oeuvre together with various interweaved strands and it is a beautiful thing to behold. Not the least of which being Ennio Morricone’s musical contributions!
Having performed numerous songs in several of Tarantino’s films—dating back to the first Kill Bill instalment—Morricone finally takes on the official role of ‘composer’ in The Hateful Eight. And what a score it is! The music is front and centre and was my first and strongest impression of a film which also showcases accomplished cinematography (was that beech forest scene in the opening chapter purposefully referencing Ivan’s Childhood? Because *heart*!) and strong dramatic sequences. Sometimes a forward soundtrack can feel overbearing, detracting from the viewing experiencing, but Morricone’s work is right on point and adds a layer of joyous life to an often harsh film. Criticise the unnecessary Taransplaining of Morricone’s (already evident) greatness if you will but I think I’d be harping on about how fab that score and the person who made it is too if this was my film. If Taranatino can produce two more films at this level of quality and interest to fill out his *10 film oeuvre* then he will have a truly enviable filmography from start to finish.