“Visionary” is a term that is too often touted about filmmakers these days. This director is a “visionary” because of his low-budget indie film about a guy who has intimacy issues due to his poor relationship with his parents. Boo-f**king-hoo. That director is a “visionary” because he found a way to genre-bend sci-fi with comedy and make an irreverent movie about two goofy friends who become reluctant, unassuming heroes in a magical fantasy world. Sounds truly, *truly* groundbreaking.
The men and women who write and create movies like those are not visionaries. They’re creative. I in no way intend that to be an insult. There’s nothing wrong with being just creative. Hell, I’m barely “just creative”. I couldn’t do what they do. Not even in the slightest. But, the term “visionary” is defined as “thinking about or planning the future with imagination or wisdom”, and that comes with a pretty big responsibility. Personally, I think that second OR should be changed to an AND; “imagination AND wisdom”. It’s likely you’ve already figured out what I’m getting at and wish I’d stop waxing eloquent and just say it, so here goes…
Quentin Tarantino is a visionary director, and The Hateful Eight is a damn fine cinematic achievement.
The Official film synopsis is as follows:
Six or eight or twelve years after the Civil War, a stagecoach hurtles through the wintry Wyoming landscape. The passengers, bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), race towards the town of Red Rock where Ruth, known in these parts as “The Hangman,” will bring Domergue to justice. Along the road, they encounter two strangers: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a black former union soldier turned infamous bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a southern renegade who claims to be the town’s new Sheriff. Losing their lead on the blizzard, Ruth, Domergue, Warren and Mannix seek refuge at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover on a mountain pass. When they arrive at Minnie’s, they are greeted not by the proprietor but by four unfamiliar faces. Bob (Demian Bichir), who’s taking care of Minnie’s while she’s visiting her mother, is holed up with Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock, cow-puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). As the storm overtakes the mountainside stopover, our eight travelers come to learn they may not make it to Red Rock after all…
There is very little else you can safely know about the plot and the story of The Hateful Eight before you start veering into Spoiler territory, so I’ll do my best to tread lightly.
First off, this isn’t a movie. It’s a film. That’s likely the most pretentious thing I’ve said in this entire review (so far!) but it’s the truth. Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a movie. The Expendables 3 is a movie (as well as 1 and 2). Pretty much everything Adam Sandler puts out nowadays are movies. Movies can be fun, and exciting, and just all-around entertaining. But movies don’t matter. Films matter. Films are labors of love and often take huge risks. Movies are cheap laughs and cheap thrills that don’t make you have to think or face some crucial facet of society or culture. Films aspire to do just that, as well as genuinely captivate you with their beauty and complexity.
The Hateful Eight is both beautiful and complex, and that’s only a fraction of what makes it a fantastic film. The first half of it progresses just like a stage play. It moves at a leisurely pace and is mostly driven by conversational dialogue and lingering tensions. Much of that is lead by Kirk Russell’s charcater John Ruth, as he spends a lot of time getting to know people. Not becasue he’s friendly, but becasue he really doesn’t trust any of them. The second half of the film picks up the pacing and brings the whole thing home in true Tarantino fashion. That is to say, brutally violent.
The story that Tarantino crafted is brilliant. It seems simple at first, but eventually reveals itself to be much more complex and complicated than the slow development would have you believe. It is also probably the most unpredictable film he’s ever made. Yes, it does have a western style like Django Unchained, but I’d say that it actually has more in common with Inglorious Bastards and Pulp Fiction as far as its tone and structure. Again, I don’t want to reveal too much, so I’ll not go into the specifics that lead me to this assessment, but suffice to say, it shares a similar approach to character development and chronology.
The brilliance that Quentin Tarantino poured into the story is only a third of what makes The Hateful Eight so enticing. The next third is the performances from every single actor on camera. There isn’t a weak link in the whole bunch. Kurt Russell is commanding and grizzled, and reminded me so much of John Wayne in the way he spoke and behaved. Sam Jackson shines the way he always does with strong presence and charisma. The two biggest stand-out’s, I felt, were Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins. Leigh is funny and misleadingly conniving, especially since her character is extremely unsophisticated. She’s not as dim as she lets on. Then there’s Goggins as Chris Mannix, the son of a former Confederate war hero and the new sheriff of Red Rock (or so he claims). The cast is rounded out by Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Demián Bichir, James Parks, and Tim Roth. Roth almost seems to channel a little Christoph Waltz at certain points, but it doesn’t feel forced. It’s just a role that I think Waltz could’ve possibly also performed.
The final third piece of what makes The Hateful Eight a great film, is all the talented people Tarantino surrounded himself with to help achieve the final product. There’s Ennio Morricone, The Composer, who scores the film, and has been working with Quentin since Kill Bill Vol. 1. Morricone is one the greatest film composers of all time, and he’s certainly well-known for his work on westerns, such as the most famous one of all time, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Then there’s Robert Richardson, The Cinematographer. He previously worked with Tarantino on both Kill Bill films, Inglorious Bastards, and Django Unchained, but he also has such films as Natural Born Killers, JFK, and Platoon on his resume. The last contributor I’ll mention is Mr. Fred Raskin, The Editor. Raskin worked on both Kill Bill films and Django Unchained, as well as films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Boogie Nights. These men are, to overuse a lame adage, “the cream of the crop” in their respective film-work jobs, and bringing them together is like creating a behind-the-scenes Justice League. Together, they’ve accomplish something truly magnificent.
To end this review I would like to tell you what I went through to see it in the Panavision Super 70 Roadshow presentation. The only theater playing it in the 70mm format close to me is 30 miles away. My father also wanted to go and see it. He just so happened to have a gift card to that theater chain that someone had given him as a gift so he offered to pay for the tickets with that, cause he’s just a nice guy. Well, we checked Fandango before we headed to the theater and there were still tickets left so we figured we’d be fine. After all, we were going to the afternoon showing and presumed it wouldn’t be crowded. We were wrong. They weren’t just crowded. They were sold out. FOR THE WHOLE F***ING DAY. Just in the time it took us to drive 30 miles they sold out the showtime we we’re going to, as well as all the other showtimes for the day. Being that we had a theater specific gift card we couldn’t have used it to buy the tickets ahead that was a risk we assumed. That risk did not pay off. So, we decided to go ahead and buy tickets for the first showing the next day and just make the trek again. The next day we made the drive, arrived early, and got good seats. Thankfully we did all that becasue that showing also ended up selling out.
I tell you that story to say, I would go through it all again. I also strongly encourage you to see it in this format if you can, becasue it’s how the film was shot and it makes the visuals all the more enthralling. After the 3+ hours, when the lights came up, I sat there staring at the screen with a smile, relishing in all that I’d just be privileged to take in. Tarantino went through a lot to get The Hateful Eight to the big screen, and the film is a lot to absorb. But, if you’re willing to make the journey, then the reward is absolutely worth it.