Film Review: The Hateful Eight

This is an OK movie that could have been great if the director’s excesses had been curtailed. The problem is that Quentin Tarantino is such a superstar director now that he has too much free rein, and here he hangs himself with it.

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For a director who started with the lean, tense Reservoir Dogs it’s sad to see that QT has reached this bloated excess. At around three hours long it’s in need if some pruning and despite the lengthy run time few of the characters truly engage.

The movie opens with Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a bounty hunter, stranded in snowy Wyoming with three dead bounties. Warren is a former Union officer, still dressed in his coat. His horse dead he flags down a passing stage carrying fellow bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), who has a live prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Ruth takes him aboard but despite liking each other he insists Warren cuff himself.

The cuffs come off when Ruth reluctantly decides to partner with Warren when they pick up another passenger Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) a former rebel marauder and racist. Mannix claims to be the newly appointed sheriff of Red Rock, the town they are going to, but Ruth doesn’t believe him.

They arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery, where the oncoming blizzard forces them to hunker down for a few days. Warren is suspicious as to where Minnie is and any she’s left a stranger, Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir) in charge. Ruth is suspicious of the others at the store, who include an English hangman (Tim Roth), a cowboy heading home (Michael Madsen) and an ageing Confederate general (Bruce Dern).

The general and Warren clash, and Ruth is convinced at least one other person there is planning to spring Daisy, who he is chained to. Is everyone who they say they are? Who can Ruth trust? And will they make it through the storm.

The idea is a good one and to his credit QT does make the Haberdashery a tense, claustrophobic setting and ramps up the unease and distrust. But as I stated it’s a little long winded.

The violence when it arrives is the typical OTT stuff of the director’s work since Kill Bill and is laughably hyperbolic in places. This excess doesn’t quite work as well as before- this isn’t genre parody/homage like Kill Bill, or daft overblown fare like Inglorious Basterds and you can’t even make the argument used for Django Unchained where the gun fight excess was almost a contrast to the nastier, more realistic violence dished out to the slaves.

It’s these lashings of gore that make it more QT and less a western. That and the dialogue which is the usual profanity laden stuff. There’s a couple of lines that really work and the plot works, but some feels unnecessary. And I worked out what kind of ending we were gonna get and a few plot points throughout.

The biggest disappointment is the character work, with many being rather under developed. Kurt Russell is exceptional as Ruth, a tough if not overly bright man with an odd code of honour. I’m admittedly a Russell fan but he’s watchable here and makes Ruth the most likeable character.

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Russell still has it

The other stand outs are Goggins as Mannix, as he is a capable performer with comedic skill and who manages to do a good job with the only character who appears to develop over the movie. Jennifer Jason Leigh is also entertaining as the prisoner Ruth describes as “peppery”.

The lead is probably SLJ’s Warren, and the actor is mesmerising as ever. He also gets the film’s major monologue, where he goads the general with a shocking story. No spoilers here, but it’s unlike anything QT or anyone else has done before and it’s sure to split audiences. I think it worked, if was overplayed and deliberately trying to shock.

Warren is an interesting character but far from likeable as the film progresses, SLJ is endlessly watchable and he is here, and it’s nice that they give him some Agatha Christie style sleuthing during the movie. But as for likeable or someone you warm to? He falls flat.

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Jackson in the lead

Dern, Madsen and Roth do well, but all are rather simply drawn and some of the twists fall flat.

This could have been a great movie, tense, claustrophobic and filled with colourful characters but it feels like a missed opportunity and the climax is rather unsatisfying. There are nice touches, but for me it’s one of the director’s weaker efforts, languishing in the bottom three with Death Proof and Inglorious.

A few interesting ideas and moments aren’t enough for the movie to work as a whole, although I was involved for most of it, even if aware if the time passing.

He clearly has ideas left in him, but it would be nice to see a restraining hand make him hold back on his excesses. A horror movie is apparently next up, and no genre is better served by brevity, so hopefully that will remind QT that you can tell a story in under 2 hours.

Verdict: Glimmers of QT’s greatness are in there and a few of the leads are very watchable, but it’s far too long, the gore is overdone and most of the characters are shallow. Generally a disappointing movie. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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