Oh hey, Tarantino made a chatty movie with moments of ugly violence. Go figure. I like it a lot.
Hateful Eight is a Quentin Tarantino movie through and through. The shots are beautiful, the script is dense and chatty, the cast is excellent, the violence is over the top and brutal, and Tarantino inserts himself into the movie in a weird way. It all comes together in a way I really enjoyed, but I’m also a mark for Tarantino’s cinematic sensibilities. The tune he plays is music to my ears, so obviously take what I say with a grain of salt. Only you know if Tarantino’s movie concoction is your cup of tea.
Not all Tarantino movies have the exact same character, though. Hateful Eight is very much a spiritual successor to Reservoir Dogs, both in that it is mostly characters talking within a single room and the character of its violence. There’s also a lot of Inglorious Basterds and obvious similarities with Django Unchained, his other western. Although, his incremental improvements as a screen writer, bigger budget, and overall growth as a filmmaker make this movie better than Reservoir Dogs. (Although I currently think that’s his weakest movie.)
I’m also inherently a big fan of dialogue heavy movies that take place in one space. It’s a kind of movie Hitchcock was great at. It’s an interesting challenge and great filmmakers can really work the depth of the space that way, which Tarantino does here. It also means that the tension has to be held, sometimes very tight for extended stretches, adding that much more depth to each little conversation. It’s a powder keg and you’re just waiting for it to explode, even if you’re not sure why or how it will. It kept me very engaged in a three hour movie, even over the course of a legitimate intermission.
All the actors are great, sometimes outshining the characters they played, but that’s part of the trick. Everyone of the Eight needed a strong screen presence to keep you on your toes and unsure of how everything will fall apart, even though you know it will. Who isn’t who they say they are? And how much do some of these characters already know about each other? For me, the standouts are Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson. They’re the two you start the movie with and the most easy to engage with upfront. This is the best of Samuel L. Jackson I’ve seen this year, although Kurt Russell’s performance in Bone Tomahawk edges his here.
On its surface Hateful Eight is a straight genre piece, but that’s kind of a deception. One of the things that I think makes Tarantino so great is that while he has a clear love and knowledge for older genre movies, and stuffs his movies full of references to them, he’s not satisfied to just recreate them either. He’s building off a foundation, but he still wants to push forward, be more audacious, and more viscerally satisfying. Because while the ultimate goal of the movie is to get to the very bloody finish, the path there is informed by very real hatred, specifically the hatred America had built up in a post Civil War world. This movie is about people who hate each other coming together and forming a bond because they hate someone else a little bit more. It’s ridiculous and very bleak, but in a way that rings true to me. The more I think about it, the more I like it.
A quick note about the 70mm roadshow release: This is a movie that comes with a program, has an overture instead of trailers, is 3 hours long with an additional full blown intermission. The larger aspect ratio is really nice, and the movie looks fantastic, although I’m really sure how much of a difference it made for me. Tarantino is trying to recapture a kind of movie going experience that doesn’t really exist anymore, and while I appreciate the effort, it didn’t come together in a way that felt profoundly different than seeing a normal movie to me. The movie is great enough on its own, but it was still a neat gimmick.
I don’t think this is Tarantino’s best movie, and it doesn’t hit me personally the way Kill Bill and Django did, but it is great and will probably only grow in my estimation as it sits with me so I’m not ready to give a final verdict on it yet. One of the very best movies I saw this year.