For better and worse — Unforgivingly Tarantino.
The Hateful Eight has this in common with Tarantino’s last two films — it is very much Tarantino and I will likely never watch it in its entirety again. Let’s get this out of the way, this is an absolutely fantastic, epic film — a borderline masterpiece. Similarly, so were Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained and also similarly, all three share the same drawbacks in spite of their greatness.
In typical Tarantino fashion, The Hateful Eight has plenty of action and gobs of gore. The characters are mesmerizing and the actors take hold of each character in their own way. Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Samuel L. Jackson and Tim Roth all exhibit the depth of their acting chops; however, it is Walton Goggins who really puts his skills on display. Goggins is an actor coming of age as a supreme talent over the last few years with roles in Justified and Sons of Anarchy, but it is Tarantino who has most effectively put Goggins’ skills to use in The Hateful Eight and Django Unchained.
The story is presented in a very Sam Shepard-esque theatrical play-like fashion, primarily taking place in one setting. The dialogue is wonderful and compelling and it seems to be written specifically for each actor.
While the movie has an Agatha Christie murder mystery feel to it, the more obvious comparison is to Tarantino’s own Reservoir Dogs. The Hateful Eight really is a re-imagining of Reservoir Dogs set in the Old West.
The film is not without flaws. Most notably is the transition from Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 when Tarantino feels the overwhelming need to insert his own narration and disrupt the previously smooth flowing story. Tarantino, who regularly plays with time in his flicks, feels the need to unnecessarily update us about what’s been happening over the last fifteen minutes. The use of a narrator distracts from the film’s overall narrative and, in essence, is a wasted tactic.
Tarantino, with his narration, breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to the viewer, and reminds us that we are simply watching a movie — and at this point the film no longer takes a traditional narrative but goes into the Tarantino-time trickery.
The first half of the story moves seamlessly along, but once Tarantino-time trickery goes into effect, the movie never has the same flow and constantly reminds us that we are watching a Quentin Tarantino movie instead of just allowing us to be a part of an incredible movie watching experience. Tarantino, a touted film historian, seems too aware of his own place in the annals of film history and feels an overwhelming need to chime in and participate in his own greatness rather than just letting us enjoy it.
The film is broken into six chapters. In essence, the climax begins in Chapter Four, but takes more than an hour to conculde, and chapter five is spent with “earlier that day” exposition. It’s a very exciting and entertaining segment of the movie, but ultimately, it is unnecessary to the story. Additionally, the dialogue isn’t nearly as well-composed and Tarantino periodically adds his narrative, further distracting from the verisimilitude of the tale.
Would I say leave it out? No, not necessarily, since these are the elements that make Tarantino movies so unique.
However, these are also the elements that keep Tarantino’s movies from reaching the masterful level of Pulp Fiction. Tarantino’s second effort was a finely woven tale, breaking traditional modes of storytelling and making a concise, tight story. Much of his later work, while still incredibly good, leaves out the “concise” part of the craft. Whether a movie is 90 minutes or 180 minutes, the story needs to be concise and told with purpose — this is even more important in a longer movie. While beautifully shot, and wonderfully told, there are too many extraneous story elements to The Hateful Eight.
The first half of the movie, much like Inglourious Basterds, is an absolute masterpiece, with the finest filmmaking craft on display. The second half of the movie is entertaining and fun, but as a viewer, I didn’t just want to know how it would end, but simply wanted the movie to end.