The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino

Movie Review
The Hateful Eight:Blood Blizzard

When was the last time you saw a 6-horse carriage hurtling through knee-deep snow in a total white-out through the badlands of Wyoming on a 70 mm screen? Probably never. When Quentin Tarantino decided to shoot his latest blood-blizzard of a movie on Utra Panavision 65mm, he knew he was creating a history. It almost takes some time to get used to how much each frame embodies and communicates. From the sheer size of the picture to the tiniest details of texture; the snowflakes and eyebrows, gushing winds and open vistas- what the eye sees is beyond verbal expression. For me, the beauty of this movie is film-deep.

And then, of course, there’s all the signature Tarantino ingredients: the gutsy characters, snappy dialogues, superb technique and kick-ass performances. The film will keep you hooked for the entire three hours, and some scenes will linger on in your memory. And yet, it ain’t no Pulp Fiction, and it ain’t no Django Unchained (n)either.

Let me explain.

The Hateful Eight is what only Tarantino can do: Lock together a bunch of venal outlaws and merciless lawmen in an isolated cabin in the backlands of Wyoming in the middle of a blizzard.  One part Whodunnit and one part Western, The Hateful Eight combines elements of both genres to a chilling intrigue. Set in the aftermath of the civil war- some ten odd years later- it seethes with racial tensions and reeks of north/south rivalry. But that’s just salt and pepper. The primary source of it’s conflict is simple- survival. And money. 

Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an outlaw in the captivity of John Ruth ‘The Hangman’ (Kurt Russel), is being taken to gallows in the town of Red Rock for a reward of 10,000 Dollars. John’s carriage, darting through a vicious snowstorm is greeted by Major Marquis Warren (Samuel Jackson), a black ex-union soldier, sitting atop three dead bodies in the middle of nowhere. Now Major Marquis’s three dead men add up to a total of $8,000 in reward. That’s still less than what Daisy would bring John single handedly- that’s how dangerous she is. Her arm is cuffed to John Ruth’s so that she wouldn’t run away. Unlike John Ruth, who likes to see his bounty hanged, and delights in hearing their necks snap, Major Warren prefers to bring them in dead if the handbill says ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’. Ms Daisy herself agrees with Major Warren, crediting him with more brains that John Ruth. 

So Ruth breaks her nose.

Now we know where she got her black eye.

The nonchalance with which Daisy takes all the beatings was kind of cool to me. Her wry smile as she licks her own blood off her jaws, and the galls she has to challenge and provoke John Ruth time and again is menacing, to say the least. Either she enjoys being battered, or she knows Ruth’s gonna pay for it in due time. 

Despite his misgivings about someone stealing his bounty, John Ruth finds in his heart to let Marquis ride in his carriage, for Marquis’s horse has succumbed to the weather. Just a little way ahead, John’s coachman spots another stranded traveler looking for a ride to safety. This is Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the new Sheriff of Red Rock- or so he says. As much as John dislikes and mistrusts this man, he agrees to give him shelter in his carriage. For the wild west, where each man is for his own, John Ruth has quite a kind heart. And so they rattle along until they reach a mountain stopover called Minnie’s Haberdashery. 

This is where things start getting mixed up. 

 For they are greeted not by Minny and Sweet Dave, the hosts, but Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir)- a man who claims to be working for Minnie. Minnie is supposed to have gone up the mountain to see her mother. And then there are other dubious characters hanging around there- Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock, cow-puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). Who are these men? What are they doing there? John has a gut feeling that one of them is not who he says he is.

So there they are- the Hateful Eight- a female outlaw, three merciless lawmen, and four shady strangers; stuck in a wooden cabin in this godforsaken place, with a gale raging outside. Treachery lurks in the corner of every eye, and the butchery that ensues ain’t no surprise to no one. To say anything more about the story would seriously spoil the fun. All I’d say that each character is meticulously crafted, making the clashes inevitable. And the dialogue is what Tarantino does best, so crisp and real and yet musical and funny and almost literary at the same time. But there’s something wanting in the film- it’s the core, the gist, the thrust. The reason for all else to exist. 

What I’ve loved about Tarantino is that there’s a purpose to all the bloodshed and murders he choreographs. In Pulp Fiction, it’s profound; while in Django Unchained it’s satisfying. But here, it served neither of those causes, nor any other- being an end in itself. I wonder if it’s Tarantino’s world view going grim with no counterpoint, or he is making absurdist film that underlines the inanity of life. Or is it simply a lacuna in the screenplay? I do not know. As much as I love Tarantino, I fear that it may just be that. It's the nature of this business, I guess.

But yeah, go watch it. It’s a Tarantino film after all- with all the grit and glory of his craft. Go enjoy it’s visual charms, riveting performances and the hair-raising suspense. Just don’t insist on a takeaway. For I’m not sure there is one. Or if there is, I clearly missed it.

PS: The music. I mean, THE MUSIC!

   Ketki Pandit

Ketki Pandit is a writer/director with MFA from New York University. Also an alumnus of Screenplay Writing course at FTII, she is passionate about cinema and stories that shape our world. . http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2775357/

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