After the spiel about how our projectionist spent 6 hours preparing The Hateful Eight’s 6 kilometres of film at London’s Odeon Leicester Square cinema the lights remained on as Ennio Morricone’s glorious opening overture bellowed out with only a gently flickering blood red card on screen – like something out of a Leone western. Tarantino successfully captured what he felt like a trip to the movies should feel like – from the film’s format to the script I knew from the word go my experience was being handled by a master, it was excellent.
I was thinking about my favourite Tarantino flicks, for me it’s: Pulp Fiction, then Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill vol. 1, and now The Hateful Eight, tearing away the 4th spot from Inglorious Basterds. Listen to the man talk in any interview and it’s immediately obvious how intelligent Tarantino is; what’s more is how he wears his enjoyment of talking about his films and film as a whole on every square inch of his pointy face – he’s seen enough of them. It’s clear in this tactically paced ensemble piece that Tarantino has spent so much time refining and re-writing to make it water-tight, casting it perfectly, shooting it in the way only he can. Originally, he was writing The Hateful Eight as a story with Django at its core but took him out and developed the plot so that it might play well on the stage and boy, can you see it. Literally. It’s all there onscreen in vision-filling 70mm 2.76:1 aspect ratio.
Ensemble films are some of the hardest to make properly as the characters need screen-time to convey their role in the story, so Tarantino creates this time, giving the film a run-time of just over 3 hours which is nicely punctuated by a 12 minute intermission at roughly 1hr 40 min. Set just after the American Civil War in snow ridden Wyoming, the first interaction on screen is between John Ruth (Kurt Russel) – known as “The Hangman”, John is a feared bounty hunter, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) – John’s scruffy looking $10,000 captive and Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) – an AWOL Union Major turned bounty hunter. Major Warren needs a ride, his horse has keeled over and he’s got 3 wanted men’s corpses that need hauling to the nearby town of Red Rock which will net him a tidy $8,000 altogether. After some quarrelling and re-balancing of power (weapons), Ruth, cuffed to Domergue who he insists be brought to Red Rock on the livelier side of the Dead or Alive payment pre-requisite, allows Major Warren aboard his carriage. Along the way a blizzard/snow storm picks up and forces the group to wait it out in Minnie’s Haberdashery, a haven for travellers a few miles from Red Rock. Bursting through the door followed by a flurry of snow Ruth announces his intentions – bring this criminal to Red Rock alive – to the current occupants of the shack and from there the network of character relationships rolls the plot right along.
The majority of the film is set within the Haberdashery wherein the characters interact and that dialogue is the bulk of the film and it’s good dialogue for that matter, written by a human, not Aaron Sorkin. I’m a fan of the “show don’t tell” motto but here, showing the characters tell things to one another as the primary storytelling method is interesting and relates back to why the film would work on the stage. The cast is incredible and everyone plays their role like you’d expect, everyone’s typecasted, but it works. You’ve got cynical Sam Jackson, English guy Tim Roth, quietly dangerous Michael Madsen, “Just be an old guy” Confederate General Bruce Dern, accented Sheriff Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir as a Mexican and completely freaking crazy JJL.
Some of the one-liners and jokes didn’t really hit me, but most of them were hilarious. Even the gore was done with comedy, it’s a gut-wrenchingly funny flick that’s tonally similar to that disgusted feeling you ashamedly enjoyed from the car headshot scene in Pulp Fiction. People have pointed at the use of racial slurs, violence and violence towards women in Tarantino’s films before and they have here too. Sure JJL gets knocked about but people were laughing at it and it made sense to the story. I like how it’s not high art, it’s Tarantino. Furthermore, JJL’s Domegue is the most badass character in the whole film. I really liked her make-up throughout, her performance was electric, wild and scary. I know De Palma is one of Tarantino’s biggest inspirations and the way he dressed JJL up like Carrie was incredible, she took her lines and her look and ran so, so far with it. Bravo.
So, luckily having saw it in the format it was intended to be shown, I am unfortunately unable to recommend seeing the film any other way as I haven’t experienced it. The film does use the whole frame well, and cheekily goes against the idea that a wide frame is better for vistas (imagine The Revenant filmed in 70mm) by shooting inside a lot and often inside to outside through windows and doors like in The Searchers or Citizen Kane. This is a worthy Tarantino film, and any self-respecting Tarantino film should definitely see it as his cocky, bloody, edgy brains are blown all over it.
What did you think? For me it’s the second best film of the year after Carol.