The problem you have when you are Quentin Tarantino is that your films aren’t compared to those of other directors, they are all compared to each other. So we have Tarantino’s eighth film upon us, aptly titled The Hateful Eight. Another in his proposed trilogy of western films, The Hateful Eight is an ensemble cast chamber piece who-done-it classic similar to Reservoir Dogs. The comparisons are instantly made to Tarantino’s other work because it’s much harder to reference any other film in modern cinema feeling like his work. You may be able to look at the equally cinematic Revenant but it lacks the story and characterisation Tarantino holds. The Big Short or Spotlight puts together a great cast and engaging dialogue but are relatively standard in their cinematography. Tarantino does both here but The Hateful Eight will be compared to his other films, and while it’s an unfortunate criticism, it isn’t his best.
The Hateful Eight centres around the interaction of a group of relative strangers forced to seek refuge in an Inn during a Wyoming blizzard. We are introduced to two bounty hunters, one who has a prize ransom in tow, a Southern female with a foul mouth. Thrown into the pot are a sheriff, a retired general, a hangman, a gruff Mexican, a writer, the coach driver and wall to wall snow. From the start there is obviously something happening in this building, but exactly what is the beauty of The Hateful Eight, as Tarantino’s messy mind slowly peels back like an onion showing off layer upon layer of mystery, intrigue and deception. Whether seen in 70mm at its full running time or in a cinematic cut, by the end of this epic western, you will have been on the edge of your seat in dread or anticipation.
The film was originally played out as a dramatic reading after the script was leaked to the public and rewrites were undertaken. The extra detail and focus on Tarantino’s writing here may have been crucial. Letting the actors immerse themselves in their roles and grow with their characters it is impossible to separate them from their roles. Kurt Russell isn’t Stuntman Mike, Samuel L. Jackson isn’t Jules Winnfield and Tim Roth isn’t Mr Orange. These familiar Tarantino faces are born again in their roles while newcomers like Bruce Dern and Jennifer Jason-Leigh sizzle on screen, engaging and raw. Perhaps more films should extend their writing and rehearsal time.
Much is made about Tarantino’s filmmaking style, his use of non-linear storytelling, his overhead tracking shots, his extreme violence, his foot fetish and all of it is present in The Hateful Eight (well no feet that i noticed actually), but it is the usage of classic gear with the Panavision 70MM film that sets this particular film apart. A rich wide landscape shot, the 70MM captures the mountains of Wyoming beautifully as well as forests and exterior shots of the buildings. Interior shots don’t play as well and while there is some gorgeous interplay of focus and angles, the 70MM became less noticeable and occasionally distracting in parts. The use of slow motion towards the end of the film also drew me from the magic, having kept the film realistic the sudden jerk of the highly visual editing reminded me I was watching a film and not an actual story play out in front of me.
The Hateful Eight is a wonderful film, it sucked me in with its beautiful landscapes and framing from the first second then kept me engaged as we meet each character one by one. As the characters are rolled out, so it the tension, a tension which continues to be wound until the conclusion of the film with very little relief in between. I wanted to know what happened, I had no desire to predict nor any idea if i would be right. While his back catalogue houses perfection that The Hateful Eight failed to reach, Tarantino gave me a new film going experience. I didn’t watch a movie, I was transported and immersed in a familiar but new world for the duration. There may be criticism of the editing of the film and suggestions it can be tighter, but it is refreshing to find a film and filmmaker who is so ready to embrace more traditional Japanese film technique and allow the plot to breathe, to build natural tension instead of hyper editing forced interactions together. If you get the chance, this is a film best watched in a cinema with a big bag of whatever you like to eat in the dark and a drink to match. Tarantino is a king of the cinematic experience.