In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin inhabited by a group of disreputable characters. What takes place there is best left discovered in a theater. But there are a few things I can tell you about “The Hateful Eight.”
I can tell you it was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, a modern film auteur who’s also enjoyed commercial success. Films like “Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill Vols. 1 and 2,” and “Django Unchained” have made him a darling of critics and film nerds alike, and have helped to shape independent cinema for over two decades.
I can tell you the dialogue was masterfully written. Not only do the words sound almost poetic as they pour out of the mouths of the characters (despite much of it being vulgar), the dialogue is rarely self-indulgent. In a film that’s nearly three hours long, it’s no small feat for every spoken word to have been used to either define a character or advance the story.
I can tell you the film was skillfully directed. The pacing is slow and deliberate, and like the dialogue, builds toward explosive moments. What’s more, the camera is a friend to the audience but a foil to the film’s characters. Tarantino shows us secrets – things the people in the film are keeping hidden – and cleverly reveals other things no one in the cabin knows. He also shoots wide, giving viewers a chance to look where they want. Not only is the breathing room refreshing at a time when many directors seem to be able to only shove a camera in actors’ faces, it allows Tarantino to frame exquisitely beautiful shots. Individual scenes are also brilliantly choreographed. The transitions from shot to shot are subtle, but like a hand turning the page of a book, smoothly carry viewers through one well-staged sequence after another.
I can also tell you it’s violent. Very violent. People die in horrific ways, most of which involve the discharge of a firearm. To say things get messy would be an understatement. More disturbing than the gore is the moral vacuum inside each character. Murder is easy, and is done with no more remorse than a predator might feel as its bites into the warm meat of its prey.
Finally, I can tell you “The Hateful Eight” is populated with several memorable characters. In fact, these are the best roles some of the cast members have had in years. Kurt Russell’s portrayal of a grizzled bounty hunter reminds us why an actor’s career should never be considered over, Jennifer Jason Leigh is off-the-charts good as his bounty, and Sam Jackson, who’s acting career is consists of nothing but highlights, delivers a command performance as another bounty hunter.
But here’s the thing. I could say things about every Tarantino picture. This is the eighth film he’s directed (the title screen even calls it “Quentin Taratino’s eighth movie”), and as good as it is, he plows the same soil he kicked up in “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992. In particular, the violence that has come to serve as Tarantino’s calling card has not changed, but rather has merely become more difficult to clean up, I assume. I’m not presumptuous enough to suggest, as one critic did, that Tarantino needs to mature as a filmmaker, but I would like to see him try new things.
The film is also a bit numbing. When I emerged from the theater at 1:48 in the morning after a showing that had started at 10:30 p.m. (only Tarantino can put a group of people in a cabin and turn it into nearly three-hour haul), I felt numb. “The Hateful Eight” is a very well made film, but it hasn’t settled on me yet, and I don’t have the wherewithal to sit through it again.
Chattanooga is showing the general release cut of the film. As of the writing of this column, a road show version presented in Ultra Panavision 70MM, a rare format that hasn’t been used in decades, is showing in Nashville (at the Thoroughbred), Atlanta (at Atlantic Station), and Knoxville (at Pinnacle Stadium). The road show version is not only larger in scope visually but is six minutes longer and features an overture, an intermission, and alternate cuts of some scenes that better showcase the widescreen format.
Three stars out of four. Rated R for violence, violent sexual content, language, and graphic nudity.
David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.