Note: This is a review of the longer, “Roadshow” version of The Hateful Eight.
Quentin Tarantino has finally done it. He’s made a movie that’s too long for its own good. You know there’s a problem when the dialogue of a Tarantino movie gets tiresome and the violence becomes nothing more than decadent and mean-spirited. Broken into two sections with a 12-minute intermission, The Hateful Eight, fails to engage in its meandering and overlong first half, which ends up impacting its second half in the worst way possible: it diminishes the film’s consequences and punishes the audience with nothing more than repellent, nihilistic cruelty.
OK, so you should know what you are in for with a title like The Hateful Eight. It refers to the film’s eight shady anti-heroes of the “Wild West,” who find themselves trapped in an outpost during a blizzard. All of them harbor essential secrets whose gradual reveal leads to an eventual bloodbath. Like the issues with Martin Scorsese’s infamous Wolf of Wall Street (Wolf of Wall Street’ is one nasty, vulgar film about nasty, vulgar people– for 3 hours!), characters lacking sympathy in such an over-long movie makes for problematic storytelling. The chief problem lies in the editing department, making Sally Menke once again sorely missed. As it was in Tarantino’s previous movie, Django Unchained (Film review: ‘Django Unchained’ celebrates myth and history with humor and horror), his first without Menke, there are problems in tone and pacing and an excess that feels so redundant it becomes dull and condescending.
The first part of The Hateful Eight is filled with the twisted threat of violence by a group of characters trying to suss each other out while stuck in a snowstorm at Minnie’s Haberdashery, the isolated mountain roadhouse where much of the drama unfolds. John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), two bounty hunters, bring in Ruth’s captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to hunker through the storm, finding a group of strangers they don’t trust and no sign of Minnie, who Marquis knows personally. Thus the suspicions begin.
It sounds like a good concept worth its slow burn. However, Tarantino, who also wrote the script, has drawn it out so long, that the dialogue creaks out with what has become a familiar formula of his plays on racism and bigotry that ends up overshadowing the fleshing out of identity. Then there are the tiresome jokes that out wear their novelty, like characters having to constantly nail boards to shut the haberdashery’s door against the snow. Plot twists aside, there’s little more story than this and little sense that anything crucial is at stake. It’s as if the film were an exercise in bringing eight shifty characters together to see how they would do each other in if they were stuck in close quarters, like a gladiator match with words and guns. It’s almost a cold exercise in story development instead of an actual story. It feels as if Tarantino has taken the extended scene of the basement bar of Inglourious Basterds and stretched it into a feature-length movie with twists that fail to reach the heights of his 2009 film without on of its context.
Before the intermission, almost two hours into the film, the first shot is fired and stakes are finally increased, and by then, you can’t wait for these people to start killing each other in cruel, spectacular ways disguised as humor. Unfortunately, that means you have more than an hour to go, and there’s no more pay off other than the film’s nasty tone, which also features a flashback to some “nice” people drawn out as if they were made of sentimental straw. The second half is all brutality and blood with some good lines here and there, but it all feels so meaningless and malicious, and it is a fundamentally problematic issue with the film.
Because of all the hype about The Hateful Eight being shot on 70mm, it is also worth noting how disappointing the cinemascope widescreen is. It’s nowhere near as grand as expected. The West is castrated by the snow, and sure, Robert Richardson gets nice wide shots of giant horse-drawn carriages and the expressive faces of some of the actors, but, more often than not, the mise-en-scene is so overwhelming that never honestly engages the audience. Russel, Demian Bichir and James Parks are among those lost in the excess of facial hair symbolic of the obstruction that has blinded Tarantino’s ego to dial it back. The only cinematic quality worth its while is Ennio Morricone’s score, but you’re better of buying the vinyl soundtrack.
In the end, The Hateful Eight’s weakness is its script. Fine, it’s in the title, but not a single one of these characters have redeeming qualities that make up for their bad sides. Pick your scale of bad guy and root for him (or her). Some are racist, throwing around the N-word with aplomb, while others carry a twisted righteousness that permits them to beat a woman at any chance. All are liars to some degree, some more interesting than others. But despite a seeming complexity, there’s something inhuman and mechanical about it all. They boil down to primal caricatures unworthy of audience sympathy. It’s as if Tarantino expects the audience to be interested in hokey representations of people standing in as jokes. What happens when you sacrifice fleshing out a person for the sake of a joke? Well, this film is our prime example, unengaging, mind-numbing and plain tiresome.
The Hateful Eight is available to watch in two different formats, in two different running times. There’s a 168 minute version in digital at most theaters and 187 minute roadshow version on 70mm. It is rated R. It opens everywhere on Dec. 25. All images are courtesy of The Weinstein Company, who also invited me to a preview screening of the Road Show Version with the overture, intermission and added footage. This review is based on that cut, but it was shown in digital projection.