I always approach a Quentin Tarantino film with a degree of nervous excitement. The nerves arise since the levels of gratuitous violence in his films is about 2 notches above the level I personally find comfortable. The excitement comes from the fact that the guy is an undisputed genius of storytelling through film.
The Hateful 8, Tarantino’s 8th film, is a case in point. Even the opening titles are gripping: Ennio Morricone’s insistent and stressful theme just sends a shiver of expectation through you.
Kurt Russell plays John Ruth – a Boba Fett of the old West – famous for always winning his bounty by bringing in his prizes alive for the hangman rather than dead as offered. This time it’s the murderous Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) chained to his wrist, heading in a stagecoach to her ‘final destination’ in Red Rock. Also taking his prizes to Red Rock (in a less healthy state) is fellow bounty hunter Major Warren (Samuel L Jackson). But Red Rock is a good distance away and a blizzard has other ideas. In the middle of nowhere, the group are snowed in at “Minnie’s haberdashery” with an assortment of others including Tim Roth (with an appropriate job) and Bruce Dern (as a former confederate war hero). Are they all who they seem to be? (That’s a rhetorical question – you can guess the answer).
I just loved the start of this film. The claustrophobic nature of the stagecoach scenes (a vehicle fitted with the most amazingly smooth suspension for the age!) and the set-up of the lead characters were somewhat reminiscent of John Ford’s classic “Stagecoach” (but with added violence). There are some glorious shots (an attaboy to Tarantino’s regular cinematographer Robert Richardson) of the Colorado landscapes, and Tarantino clearly got a new drone for Christmas: the camera skims through the tree-tops as the stagecoach proceeds through the snowy landscape. A close up of the galloping horses to another piece of classic Morricone music is just breathtaking.
Once we arrive at Minnie’s, the tone changes, more akin to classic Hitchcock’s like “Rope” or “Rear Window” and this segment is equally gripping. With dramatic cut-aways and clever editing, the tension builds and you are constantly waiting for the wave to break.
What emerges is just how unpleasant all of the 8 protagonists really are. It takes some of the other cast (the list is not limited to eight) acting ‘normally’ to make you realise just how inured to the violence and hate you have become.
When the proverbial brown stuff does hit the fan, it hits it big style with gore a-plenty. While the whole thing is done with significant style and Tarantino’s usual brand of jet-black humour, in my view it goes way over the top. There are some clips I would wish to “un-see”, and the film is poorer as a result. It would be fascinating for Tarantino to film a more accessible “PG” version of the film, that builds on the mystery and tension of the story rather than his usual crutch of shock factor violence.
The standout performances for me were from Russell and Jason-Leigh, the latter spitting blood, teeth and acidic comments spectacularly. (As an aside of movie trivia, Jason-Leigh is the daughter of Vic Morrow, the marvellous character actor who was so tragically killed by a helicopter during the filming of “The Twlight Zone” movie. Her dad would be proud of her here).
The most annoying performance for me comes from Roth, with a highly affected English accent that grates enormously.
If you like big, bold, entertaining yet astonishingly violent spectacles then this is for you. If you are high on the “Love Actually” scale, this is one you might like to miss. By the way, if you do go i recommend wooly socks and a jumper – it might not be cold in the cinema, but after getting on for 3 hours of this film with all that snow, you WILL start to feel the cold.
Fad Rating: FFFf.