Quentin Tarantino may very well be his own worst enemy. In the past 20 years, he’s moved his way from the maverick director behind the low-budget Reservoir Dogs to a powerhouse of the movie industry, directing beacons of controversy like Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds. No matter what your opinion is on his movies, it’s hard to deny that he’s a very well respected director, and audiences now flock to his movies with certain expectations. They expect something ridiculous, bloody, and over-the-top. This has led to Tarantino putting arguably an overabundance of his unique tone into his latest movies, for better or for worse.
His latest effort comes in The Hateful Eight, a bizarre genre mix of western and whodunit. The basic premise is that a group of people who kind-of-sort-of hate each other are snowed-in at an inn under mysterious circumstances, including poisoned coffee and a letter from Abraham Lincoln himself. The movie seems to have only two notable problems, though they are significant.
The first is Tarantino’s self-confinement to blood-and-guts ridiculousness. There is no reason for the violence in this movie to be so disgusting, visceral, and gratuitous other than the credit “Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino.” The tone and content simply don’t justify the ultra-violence found in the second half.
Tarantino’s previous two movies, Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds, were ridiculous and funny pretty much right off the bat. The ultra-violence in those felt strangely justified because of their more comedic tones, but more importantly because the people getting their heads blown off were white slavers and Nazis.
The Hateful Eight has some pretty awful characters too, but the cramped environment and more serious tone makes the river of blood that comes later on in the film feel like an unwanted tonal shift.
The second big problem is more obvious: it’s just too long. It does not need to be three hours. There are sections of the film that could have been consolidated into one shorter segment. The decision to go back and forth in time to see what other characters were doing seems unnecessary and only serves to contrive more mystery in the plot.
However, The Hateful Eight proves once again that Tarantino is truly a master of storytelling. The writing is sharp and suspenseful, the dialogue witty and fitting of each character. The plot, while definitely drawn out, is wonderfully engaging and suspenseful. I was kept on my toes for the full three hours, constantly wondering who to trust (if you can trust any of them).
The characters clash in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways. Some of the conflicts are predictable: Samuel L. Jackson’s black bounty hunter obviously isn’t going to get along with Bruce Dern’s Confederate general. But some character interactions are more mysterious. John Ruth’s (Kurt Russell) relationship with his prisoner is fascinating to watch, and Chris Mannix’s (Walter Goggins) gets him in trouble with various characters in a myriad of different and interesting ways.
The Hateful Eight is an on-screen testament to Tarantino’s meticulous story-telling. His set-ups always have payoffs; every plot point is developed in intricate detail. When a character finds a random jelly bean on the floor early in the movie, you better believe you’ll find out how it got there just as you forgot about it.
The whole movie is like an extended version of the bar scene in Inglourious Basterds. The rising tension and hostility makes every second increasingly nerve-wracking. When the powder keg finally goes off, it’s truly satisfying in a way that only Tarantino movies can be.
Maybe it won’t be remembered as a classic like Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, but The Hateful Eight nonetheless holds its own against its peers. Despite its problems, it’s a joy to watch and certainly demands to be re-watched. Original and gripping, The Hateful Eight is definitely worth a trip to the theater.
4 out of 5 Stars
Joel Wallick is currently pursuing a degree in film studies at Bowling Green State University with a minor in creative writing. He has been gaming since early childhood, beginning with Pokemon Silver. Follow him on Twitter @SuperNerdJoel.