The Hateful 8

  
Quentin Tarantino appears to be stuck in a rut. With Django Unchained it seemed he had started paying homage to his own films as much as he always had other people’s, retreading things we had seen him do before. His particular style of irreverent and shocking film making didn’t feel fresh in the way it once did and as a result he just wasn’t irreverent or shocking anymore. The Hateful 8 is a better film than Django Unchained, certainly it isn’t as overblown, poorly paced and indulgent, but it is plagued by the same problems. He can ramp up the sudden ultra-violence, he can increase his use of the n word and he can give his characters eloquence way beyond what is normal but it seems that one thing Tarantino can no longer do is surprise us. 

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That isn’t to say The Hateful 8 is a poor film, not by any stretch. In fact at the start there are signs that Tarantino is beginning to mature as an artist. He himself has stated that this is his best work as a director and I am inclined to agree with him. There is nothing here to match the raw, amoral, bloody and audacious storytelling of his first two films Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but he is showing more sophistication in his framing and his ability to tell a tale cinematically. The opening shots of this western with snowy landscapes, horses and slowly approaching stage coaches use the big screen in ways reminiscent of movies like Lawrence of Arabia and The Searchers. Unfortunately this is not sustained. Evidently the little David Lean on one of his shoulders is continually shouted down by the little John Carpenter on the other one. The film starts with stark whites but, as you would imagine, ends soaked in red.

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The movie starts with a stage coach being flagged down by Samuel L. Jackson’s bounty hunter Marguis Warren. Major Warren, proudly wearing his uniform from the recently ended Civil War, is taking three dead criminals to the next town but his horse has died. On the coach is another bounty hunter John ‘the Hangman’ Ruth played effortlessly but brilliantly by Kurt Russell. Ruth likes to bring them in alive and bring them to capital justice (hence the nickname) and on this occasion he is hauling a handcuffed woman Daisy Domergue, portrayed by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Jason Leigh incidentally is probably the best thing about the film, wonderfully playing her character as a mix of Ally Sheedy’s character in The Breakfast Club and Carrie.

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A tentative union is formed and Warren boards the coach. It isn’t long though until they are joined by the supposed new Sheriff of the town they are heading to played by Walton Goggins, who may end up being the breakout star from this Tarantino movie. We journey with this mismatched crew to Minnie’s Haberdashery where they need to take shelter from the blizzard. Once there Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Demián Bichir are already in residence and that makes eight.

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This first third of the film is very chatty and this was actually by far my favourite part. (I think it was about a third, frankly with the movie being over three hours long time began to swim around a bit.) Dialogue is the one thing that Tarantino still does better than anyone else and I could have listened to his characters converse for the entire running time. There is real joy in the way Tarantino writes speech and when it is delivered well it can win multiple Oscars (just ask Christoph Waltz). As each new player gets paraded before us they get a proper introduction with more and more of those delicious sentence constructions. 

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All the while though you get a creeping sense that all of this will stop and they will start shooting each other. Suspicious allegiances are inferred and formed, Civil War anxieties and prejudices are exposed, tension builds and it starts to feel like a proper thriller. Then the gunplay eventually does begin and it is no longer as interesting. It never gets boring but the only suspense is in what order people will get popped, not whether they will or not. To be fair not everyone gets shot, some people meet a messier end and some of them still have their eyes open by the time the credits eventually roll. It just all seems very familiar. There is even a point at which Michael Madson approaches someone with murderous intent and they play a bouncy little ditty on soundtrack as he does it. That was bold twenty four years ago but not now.

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The Hateful 8 is grimly entertaining as all of Tarantino’s films are but it is slow and predictable. It is time to do something different Quentin, then I truly believe you could be brilliant again. 

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The Ripley Factor: 
Some have criticised the film for being misogynist but I don’t think it is. Yes, Jennifer Jason Leigh gets punched in the face quite a lot but there is something strangely feminist about that. She is being treated the same as the men and there is no suggestion that she is weaker, any less dangerous or any less hateful than anyone else. She spends most of the film shackled to Kurt Russell but she is the equal of everyone on the screen. Quentin Tarantino may be offensive in other respects, something of which he is no doubt proud, but he is not sexist. This is the guy who has given us some of the strongest female characters in the last quarter of a century of cinema and he has kind of done it again. 

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