The words ‘self-indulgent’ are often bandied around when discussing the work of Mr Quentin Tarantino. With The Hateful Eight it’s easy to see why. My mind wandered for the first hour and forty-five minutes, trapped in the film’s only two locations: a stuffy stagecoach and claustrophobic haberdashery. Scene setting is important, sure, but there’re only so many times I can see John Ruth (Kurt Russell) rescuing waifs and strays from the snow before losing interest. Just because Tarantino is one of the greats doesn’t mean that at least half an hour of the movie shouldn’t have been left on the cutting room floor. It’s stodgy, lacking the stylish ostentation and mischievous dark comedy of his earlier films. You can’t help but feel nostalgic for the razor sharp dialogue of Pulp Fiction as the bounty hunters throw expletives at each other in the Wyoming wilderness. I missed Christoph Waltz, truth be told. Kurt Russell’s bad guy persona doesn’t have Waltz’s boyish impishness that won us – and Oscar voters – over in Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained.
But then, miraculously, something changed. A much-needed turning point had arrived in The Hateful Eight’s godless universe. When Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) promises a naked prisoner a blanket in exchange for sex acts, vengeful sadism returned and Tarantino was back. In the second half of the film, the director’s experimental flair (that we know and love) comes to the fore. The western becomes more of a murder mystery, a postmodern mesh of hybrid forms with its chapter headings and theatrical reliance on props (the Lincoln letter, the armchair, the kettle…). What I most love about Tarantino is his nods to the French New Wave, which remind us that we are merely spectators watching a screen. In a self-conscious moment, the filmmaker himself reads the voice-over establishing the whodunit plot, telling the same story from different angles to expose how he’s manipulating point of view. Unlike the initial sequences, the final act of The Hateful Eight is tightly scripted, suspense-driven and ends with the haberdashery’s soft furnishings dripping with blood and its wooden floorboards smeared with innards.
Before its release, the director and the film drummed up a lot of press: Tarantino criticises Cate Blanchett’s ‘arty’ oeuvre, Tarantino dismisses police boycotts of The Hateful Eight, Tarantino’s won’t show his new movie at three major UK cinema chains etc. etc. A well-covered issue that caught my attention is whether or not The Hateful Eight is misogynistic for its treatment of scrappy heroine Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). As John Ruth’s hostage, Daisy – who has a swollen black eye as soon as we meet her – suffers a lot of abuse, whether she’s being thrown up on, pushed out of a moving vehicle or taking a gun butt to the face. Considering that the film is set during the nineteenth-century, this sexism is probably historically accurate. But, much like the casual use of the n-word, that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable to watch. Tarantino wants his audiences to react this way, saying that hitting a woman is “one of the last taboos left.” The jury’s out on that one.
Yes The Hateful Eight picks up, but it’s still tediously slow in parts and is, in my opinion, leagues apart from the director’s other iconic contributions to cinema. Not your best, QT.