Have you heard the one about the eight vipers in the Haberdashery?
I had the good fortune of being able to watch Quentin Tarintino’s eighth film, The Hateful Eight, with a group of friends the other week. Once the credits had rolled, the inevitable question of ‘did you enjoy that?’ cropped up. I always ask this question of people when I view movies with them, staring at them with the unblinking intensity of a Vietnam War vet, demanding an answer within ten seconds otherwise it’ll be their turn to pull the trigger on the .36 loaded with one bullet and aimed at their head. That’s the rule. There was a deathly silence in the room, as eyes quizzically looked up at the ceiling to ruminate on the last 168 minutes.
‘There was a lot of talking, wasn’t there?’ Came one reply.
‘I loved all the different characters.’ Came another.
‘Went on for longer than I thought. Like…way too long.’ Someone whispered.
‘Who was the narrator three quarters of the way through?’ A person queried, gazing at the wall.
‘Do you have any more Pringles?’ Everyone asked.
The Hateful Eight is a divisive film. Set in the post-Civil War era, the movie puts a group of detestable, odious, intolerable and…other words that can be linked with ‘Hateful’ in the Collins English Thesaurus, against each other in a snowbound Wyoming cabin. Kurt Russell plays bewhiskered John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth, hamming it up with absolutely no fucks given, replete in John Wayne mode – transporting fiery criminal Daisy Domergue, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh to be hanged. Whilst travelling to Red Rock, their carriage comes across another bounty hunter: Major Marquis Warren, (Samuel L. Jackson) an ex-slave turned Unionist veteran with a record of wartime atrocities, but with a personal letter from Abraham Lincoln that he keeps on him at all times.
This is one of the best roles in Samuel L Jackson’s career, and in many ways, though an ensemble cast, this really is his film. His Major Warren is perhaps the smartest character of them all, manipulating anyone he comes across to further his own goals. The first half hour of the film will be the tipping point for anyone undecided whether they will throw in headfirst and follow through with the rest of the presentation, enjoying the characters and dialogue, or whether they’ll simply find it abysmal. Whereas some of Tarintino’s films in the past have been likened to Marmite, The Hateful Eight will DEFINITELY put you into one of either two camps. The initial half hour mostly taking place in the carriage, Tarantino takes his time assembling the characteristics and nuances of Ruth, Domergue and Warren – and you really do get to know the characters. There’s a sweet naivety to Russell’s Ruth, a cunning guile behind the black eye of Leigh’s Domergue and a whip-smart attitude to Jackson’s Warren.
In this time, we’re also introduced to Chris Mannix, played by Walton Goggins, who was once an outlaw and now claims to be travelling to Red Rock to be inaugurated as the new Sheriff. This sets up a hostile and paranoid theme that plays throughout, which is brilliantly showcased by all the actors onscreen. When they arrive at the lodge, (a halfway house known as Minnie’s Haberdashery) that’s as immense and expansive on the inside as Doctor Who’s Tardis, they are joined up by more insufferable (still using the Thesaurus) characters. There’s the smirking gun-for-hire Joe Gage, played by Michael Madsen, doing his usual Mr. Blonde thing – a twitchy, secretive Mexican called Bob, (which instantly had me thinking of Blackadder) Bruce Dern plays racist General Sandy Smithers (who I don’t think stands up at any point in the film) but has a crucial scene between him and Jackson, which has to go down as one of the best written Tarantino scenes ever, and then there’s a delectably smug and oily British hangman, played by Tim Roth.
Minnie’s Haberdashery’s owners seem to be missing and there are curious queries raised, such as why a jellybean is stuck in the floorboard… This is where the film changes gears and starts becoming an Agatha Christie mystery, mixed with a pinch of John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing,’ for good measure…the lodge quickly becomes a microcosm of current life once the surface is scratched; a life where racism, distrust, and jealousy take precedent. Only in The Hateful Eight’s case, there’s a plethora of swearing, N-word bombs sprinkled throughout and the always-alluding threat of violence. The swaggering, quintessential American dialogue pulls the movie into full speed; character revelations are made, plot twists are spun and the Ennio Morricone score, which is as graceful and catchy as anything he has ever written, keeps the viewer constantly on edge.
But then the film enters the third act (or ‘intermission’, as the use of ‘Chapter’ cards seen in Tarantino’s other films makes a reappearance) and this is where the cracks start to show. The problem isn’t the story, but rather the surreptitious deus ex machina that rears its ugly head towards the end of the film. You get the feeling that throughout the first half of The Hateful Eight, we’re examining man’s relationship of trust, prejudice and fear being our natural base foundation, but then Tarintino suddenly remembers that he’s filming a Quentin Fucking Tarintino film, has backed himself into a corner and needs to break up the sequence of events with some head explosions and gore.
People may likely take a bitter stance towards Leigh’s Daisy Domergue’s treatment in the film. Taking multiple punches to the face, ending up covered in blood, tooth missing, there’s an undeniable sinister feeling that Tarintino is taking a child-like glee in the ongoing abuse she sustains throughout the movie. The defence for this thinly veiled comic relief, one could argue, is that it shows her resolute spirit in the face of all these repugnant characters. (Thesaurus working into over-drive now!). I guess the derision is confounded by the fact that none of the characters in The Hateful Eight have much in the way of redeeming features. Whereas other Tarintino films have taken amoral characters and (in some instances) shown resolution to their predicaments, in this film we are given a lodge full of vipers striking each other with their teeth filled with venom and it’s up to the viewer to decide whether they can relate to any of the narcissistic, Machiavellian tendencies of each snake. Yes, I know that they’re all hateful characters and that this is the point that is being made, but after all the tension building in the first act, you really want a better payoff at the end.
The Hateful Eight thrills, The Hateful Eight spills and if you want to grade this entry in Tarantino’s catalogue, I’m tempted to put it high in the list. It’s tense, a lot ghastlier than expected and there’s a cruelty running throughout akin to the basement scene in Pulp Fiction, or the ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs, but some people may be put off by the long running time of the film and the fact that it’s mainly set in one area. Not me, though – I say pass the .36 and pull the trigger, pilgrim.
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Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company