Hello, everyone! I’m back at home for Thanksgiving break, which means I’ve had lots of time to sleep all day and write all night, and of course, catch up on my movie viewing. Last night I watched The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film and also his most self-indulgent. Now I love Inglourious Basterds and Django and the Kill Bills because they have a slick, stylized violence to them, as well as clever dialogue and dynamic characters you can’t help but root for, even in their debauchery. But Hateful Eight is like a recipe gone wrong. On the surface you have all of the Tarantino trademarks, the blood, the punchy dialogue, the memorable protagonists, but the end of the film leaves you feeling empty and a tad robbed. Why, you may ask, does Tarantino’s latest film fail to satisfy? I say it’s because of bad editing, both of the actual footage and of the concept. Tarantino is certainly an auteur, and usually his quirky touch is heavy in all the right ways, but in this film I finally felt the weight of his ideas crashing down. So let’s dive into some of the reasons that Hateful Eight succeeds, and some of the reasons it really, really fails.
Synopsis: On the eve of a crippling blizzard, bounty hunter Marquis Warren comes across a stagecoach with John “The Hangman Ruth” and his bounty Daisy Domergue, a notorious murderer. Ruth agrees to bring Warren with him to his destination, Minnie’s Haberdashery, if Warren will help him protect the $10k bounty he is seeking for Domergue, and in return he’ll protect Warren’s $8k bounty for the men he’s bringing in. On the way to Minnie’s they meet Chris Mannix, who claims to be the sheriff of Red Rock, the nearby town, and reluctantly agree to take him too.
Once at Minnie’s, they find the place inhabited by four strangers: Bob, who says he’s taking care of the place for Minnie, Oswaldo, the local hangman, Joe Gage, a cowboy, and Sandy Smithers, a retired Confederate general. Though they begin civilly, soon tensions arise and the motives of each of the “Hateful Eight” is revealed, to deadly consequences.
Successes: The greatest strength of this movie is its plot structure. Essentially, Tarantino spins us a story in chapters, with each chapter revealing a new facet of the plot. I like this because it livens up what is otherwise a very standard revenge Western. He keeps it surprising, however, because he begins the story in media res without making the audience aware of it. It’s only when we get to the later chapters that we flash back to the past and see how all the puzzle pieces fit together. I can’t say that I was ever bored watching this movie, but I wasn’t really on the edge of my seat either.
Another strength is the characterization. Each of the “Hateful Eight” is distinctly drawn, each with their own likes and prejudices and sort of annoying speech patterns. Some of them are more caricatures than full portraits, like Joe Gage, Oswaldo, and Bob, but others, like Ruth, Warren, and Daisy Domergue could bust out of the screen and start walking down the street. Even though Tarantino goes a little overboard with their hatefulness (we get it, they’re the Hateful Eight, but why do they all have to be such virulent racists and misogynists?), they still seem incredibly realistic. But unlike in his previous films where he drew clear protagonists, the “Hateful Eight” are all so equally terrible that until the latter half of the movie, you don’t root for any of them. But in a way this works in his favor, since their equal terribleness means that you might as well just root for the one with the best lines. For me, that was Domergue, but I actually rooted for her because of a different reason, which I will discuss in the film’s failures.
The visual flair of the film is not as striking as his other works, besides being shot on 70mm film and having the stylized yellow title cards that he is so fond of. That’s not to say it’s an ugly film, because it’s not. The blueish white, warm brown, and golden yellow color scheme is pleasing to the eye, and he throws in a few inventive shots here and there to keep the viewer’s eye amused. Compared to a film like Inglorious Basterds, though, with its unforgettable opening scene, and Kill Bill, with the teahouse fight scene, it’s disappointing. You expect more from a showboat like Tarantino and for the most part, he doesn’t deliver.
The Failures: My biggest problem with The Hateful Eight is the editing. So nowadays, shot length has gotten very short. In action movies sometimes a shot only lasts 3-5 seconds, dramas and comedies are definitely longer, sometimes up to 7 seconds. There is absolutely NO NEED to have a shot last 3-5 MINUTES long unless it is a dialogue scene, or it features compelling action. Tarantino spends 3-5 MINUTES ON AN ESTABLISHING SHOT. Granted, it is the opening shot/scene, and it does have the opening credits rolling through it, but it is still maddeningly excessive. You have to ask yourself why he is making the audience sit through this at the outset, and why he is testing their patience so early? Is it because he thinks the shot he is showing is necessary/compelling? Or just because he’s Tarantino and he can? I think it’s more the second one.
This pacing/editing issue continues into the film. The establishing cross scene is shown again, in just as long a take, to show a time jump, even though that could be established in like five seconds, and a single sequence of a stage coach traveling to the Haberdashery is shot from approximately 5-6 angles. It’s like either the editor doesn’t understand time ellipses or he thinks the film needs to have every part of the carriage’s journey shown on screen. I know it’s not the former but I don’t understand why it’s the latter. I’m not entirely opposed to long takes or long sequences, but when they’re so unnecessary that they test my patience, then I become opposed. Especially when they seem so out of place in a movie like The Hateful Eight, which could benefit from quicker cuts.
My second biggest problem is the film’s attitude towards women. I feel like I have addressed this a bunch of times, but oh my god it keeps happening. There are 4 female characters in this film, but only Domergue is onscreen for more than a few minutes. And from her very introduction, she is constantly being assaulted. And not a slap or a cuff, but a broken nose, smashed teeth, being thrown from a stagecoach, cracked in the head, and other various assaults. The men in this film face violence too. They get poisoned and shot. But none of them face the same constant degradation and humiliation that Domergue faces, from start to finish, all for the infraction of talking, or at worst, spitting. And yes, Domergue says some vile, racist things. But so do all of the characters. They’re all horrible, racist, violent, murderers, yet Domergue is the one who is constantly belittled, punished, and humiliated. She’s the one portrayed as the villain and when she gets her “comeuppance”, it’s played off like a victory, instead of a horrific action. You can guess why I was rooting for her. I can only watch a female character get harrassed and beaten for so long until I want her to kill everyone in the joint.
It’s so upsetting because Tarantino has had some real highlights with his female characters. The Bride from Kill Bill, Shoshanna and Bridget from Inglorious Basterds, Hildy from Django, all nuanced characters who made their own decisions and weren’t merely feminine punching bags. He regressed so much with this film that it makes me not want to watch any other Tarantino films because I don’t want to see the only woman on screen be constantly assaulted.
And of course, there is his problem with the “n-word.” Like many critics, I can’t tell if Tarantino is appalled by racism or if he just has a perverse fascination with putting black characters into disgusting situations and then having them climb out of it, all the while battling a firestorm of racist epithets. Is that empowerment? Fuck no. That seems like exploitation to me.
Which reminds me of his other perverse fascination, male rape. Marquis Warren has a five minute monologue where he describes forcing a man to walk naked through the snow, then makes him perform fellatio before killing him. The man was trying to kill Warren but he didn’t deserve to be raped. It reminds me of the horrid scene in Pulp Fiction where Marsellus Wallace is raped by neo-nazis. Just because a black man is doing the raping instead of being raped it doesn’t mean it’s progress! It just means that Tarantino is still portraying rape on screen as if it’s a deserved punishment, not an abhorrent crime.
Final Consensus: The Hateful Eight is Tarantino gone awry. All of the red flags from his other films were allowed to fly in this film and no one thought to edit them out. With a more subtle hand, stronger editing, tighter pacing, The Hateful Eight might have been up there with one of the Kill Bills. But it’s unrestrained and self-indulgent and it shoots itself in the foot. Here’s hoping that in Tarantino’s next project, he takes a step back.