The H8ful Eight is among other things a troubling work to behold and mull over. On one hand, this is to be expected, coming from the most beloved exploitation director of Gen-X, Quentin Tarantino, who loves his women bare-footed, his violence explosive and over-the-top, and his dialogue so chewy and memorable, it’s no surprise he keeps picking up awards for screenwriting. On the other hand, it’s not as much the content that troubles the author as much as the sloppy presentation of Mr. Tarantino’s work, who is expected to know better by now.
Before all the film geeks pounce and spear me with their pitchforks and flambé my pudgy rump with their torches, note that I am not complaining about the format I viewed the film through. I traveled all the way to Livonia to view The Hateful Eight in Glorious 70 Millimeters, complete with Overture and ten-minute Intermission. While the print seemed a little wonky at times, the format was not what I take issue with at all. I am a terrific fan of old-school entertainment presentation, the roadshows, the Ben-Hur’s, heck one of my favorite films ever made is Lawrence of Arabia, which I saw twice au cinéma when Celebration Cinema featured it as part of its now sadly defunct “Celebrating the Classics” series, presented in such a format.
My problem is with aspects of the storytelling that Tarantino uses to possibly make his work stand out from his stolen draft that was leaked online by the Internet press in early 2014. If this is the case, I still feel the choices made in the later pages of the screenplay render much of the entertainment garnered from the early pages moot. Let me explain:
The H8ful Eight starts out with Samuel L. Jackson’s Maj. Marquis Warren hitching a ride on a stagecoach in the snowy wilds of Wyoming with bounty hunter “The Hangman” John Ruth, played with mustachioed machismo by Kurt Russell, who himself is transporting a prisoner, Daisy Domergue.
Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Domergue takes a lot of abuse in this movie, hence troubling aspect number one. Granted, she is an outlaw who takes the most vicious of glee when harm and disappointment comes to her captors, but the level of violence directed toward her just to fill in the silence gets a little uncomfortable even for a he-man like myself whose favorite works include the many visceral works of Dario Argento and John Carpenter.
As their carriage navigates the snowy drifts reminiscent of Michigan’s current roadways, the trio picks up yet another guest, the self-professed new Sheriff of Red Rock, Domergue and Ruth’s destination. The new sheriff only happens to have been a former southern raider during the Civil War, leading to a beef with Warren, former Union cavalry. Shortly thereafter, the travelers arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a lodge that already houses four guests, the Red Rock hangman, a cow puncher, a Mexican named Bob, and a grizzled old Confederate general. Our now 9 players, I forgot to mention the carriage driver O.B. who takes as much crap as Domergue takes beatings, hunker down in the lodge to escape the hostile blizzard just arriving at their doorstep.
But is all as it seems at the lodge? For those answers, you’ll have to see the film, and then we’ll talk.
As for the questionable elements, I’ll be as discreet as possible without spoiling the whole film. The film is split into 6 chapters, the first four of which function magnificently as an outrageous, slow-burn, pseudo-stageplay. Seriously, if the film had only consisted of the first four chapters with a slightly retooled ending, the film would be a near-masterwork of modern frontier westerns along the likes of Once Upon a Time in the West via the Coen’s True Grit.
Unfortunately, after the movie ended and I mulled over the contents as a whole, elements of the last 45 minutes only angered me as to provoke the question, “why was this film over 3 hours long?” The choices and events of the last act only instilled in me the unbelievability of the story as a whole, it took me out of the movie, and when that happens, the director and script have utterly failed at their jobs.
The wintry photography is cool and effective in its isolation. The acting all around is spot-on, from Tim Roth’s slimy, smug “hangman” to Bruce Dern’s grizzled, bewildered ol’ general, alongside the powerhouses that are Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell. But the two greatest standouts of the picture are Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins, portraying Daisy Domergue and Sheriff Chris Mannix, respectively.
Leigh gives Domergue a quiet, palpable menace that comes alive when she just silently stares at her captors, actively seething while letting nothing explicit show in her facial features. Goggins’ Sheriff is a fun misanthrope who simply fought for the wrong side of a conflict and is now paying karma’s toll. He has a gleeful streak of humanity and clownishness in an outright cruel and killer environment. Much of the dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny in the most pitch-black fashion and truly haunting in its realism at many points in the story, such as Warren’s introduction to Ruth as well as his eventual conversation with the grizzled general who executed black soldiers at the Battle of Baton Rouge.
But undoubtedly the most memorably awesome aspect to The Hateful Eight is maestro Ennio Morricone’s wicked musical score, a first for a Tarantino picture, which typically steals from 60s and 70s Top 40 hits to fill the musical accompaniment. Once the overture struck the big screen over the image of a lone carriage against a blood-tinted landscape, I found myself totally engaged in the proceedings and enthralled by the sense of simultaneous dread and excitement that Morricone instills in the audience, courtesy of some unused music from John Carpenter’s The Thing.
I keep looping the soundtrack on YouTube as I compose this piece; that is how good the film soundtrack is.
Morricone, a seasoned veteran of spaghetti westerns and blockbusters such as The Untouchables, has still got whatever he had way back in the days of yore when he was the Italian equivalent of Hans Zimmer, with his paws in a lot of pictures of varying quality that still had the great fortune to land his talents as musical maestro. I need this soundtrack, like yesterday!
Being the Tarantino-brand of picture, it is no surprise that The H8ful Eight is in parts outrageous and glorious. It just so happens that I took more offense at what I perceived to be sloppy storytelling rather than the raucous content Mr. Tarantino is peddling this time around. It is most concerning that his projects get seemingly less thought-out the more ambitious his projects get. I do recommend viewing the movie but only if you know what you’re getting: a Tarantino western with a bleak moral center and a killer soundtrack that outshines most everything in the movie.