If you are a fan of Quentin Tarantino, you will know what to expect from his films. Therefore, the warnings I normally give for potentially objectionable content seem somewhat futile, but let’s get that out of the way upfront. His new western The Hateful Eight contains extremely strong bloody violence, swearing, racist language, nudity, crude sexual references and scenes of facial hair that some viewers may find disturbing. Actually, Kurt Russell’s moustache is rather magnificent.
To the matter at hand then: is it any good? Well, mostly yes and partly no. The set-up is interesting, as a bounty hunter and female prisoner are forced to take shelter in a cabin with various potentially shady characters during a Wyoming blizzard. Shot in ravishing 70mm, Tarantino makes magnificent use of the ultra-widescreen format, apparently shooting with the very lenses that filmed William Wyler’s Ben Hur. Unfortunately most venues only show digital prints, but nevertheless the snowy landscapes look magnificent. So do the interiors, where the film is largely set. Although the plot is theatrical, Tarantino’s interior compositions make superb use of space.
The cast all do well too: Kurt Russell’s bounty hunter and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s prisoner are joined by the likes of Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Zoe Bell, Walton Goggins, Demain Bichir and various others. The music score by Ennio Morricone is sparingly used but well done, although Tarantino can’t resist playfully chucking in a few other bits of music too, including a track from Last House on the Left and a Roy Orbison song. That said, The Hateful Eight isn’t as infuriately self-aware as some of his other work, although it does deliberately play with the genre. At first it appears to pay homage to the Sergio Leone westerns, but it later becomes something of a murder mystery. At one point one character slips into full-on Hercule Poirot mode, gathering everyone together and explaining the murderous conspiracy, before lurching in another direction altogether.
Although unquestionably overlong, The Hateful Eight contains exactly what you expect from a Tarantino film, ie colourful characters, amusing (and lengthy) banter, dark comedy, and a bit non-linear jiggery pokery before everything degenerates into an orgy of Grand Guignol bloody violence. And I do mean bloody. At times there are shots that even recall horror movies such as Brian De Palma’s Carrie.
What most lets the film down, for me at least, is that all the main characters are so downright, well, hateful. Yes, Tarantino specialises in films about vicious loonies, but there is normally someone or some event that give his films, if not exactly a moral centre, then a point of identification for the viewer. Mr White’s sudden attack of conscience in Reservoir Dogs for instance. Or the various peculiar paths to pseudo-redemption taken by key characters in Pulp Fiction. Uma Thurman and Jamie Foxx’s characters in Kill Bill and Django Unchained respectively are also good examples, given their largely understandable quests for vengeance. Incidentally, I definitely prefer Django Unchained to The Hateful Eight, despite the former’s deeply flawed finale.
Ultimately this film is too self-indulgent to rank alongside the lean, innovative genius of Tarantino’s best work (ie Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction), but he is still a singular cinematic artist whose work demands to be seen. With that in mind, for the appropriate audience, The Hateful Eight is, despite undoubted flaws, a good if jaw-droppingly violent evening’s entertainment.