The Hateful Eight :: A Hatful of Fun, But No Tears
Contains very mild spoilers.
I love Quentin Tarantino. I love his style and his language and perhaps most of all, his chutzpah. But his films never make me cry, because they never really make me care, and that’s why for me they’re never really truly great. They’re like a wild one-night stand with the model of your choice in a really chichi hotel and a selection of cracking designer drugs, when all you really want to do is to fall in love.
Still, lovelessness notwithstanding, that’s quite a night, and you’d have to be a whingeing joyless ingrate to turn it down.
The Hateful Eight, Tarantino’s second western after Django Unchained, is great fun, but it’s not — in my most humble — a truly great film. It’s beautiful, visceral, brilliantly acted and constructed, funny and smart and superficially shocking, but ultimately it’s somewhat unsatisfying.
The set-up is simple: in snowbound Wyoming not long after the Civil War, a bounty hunter and his prisoner are holed up in a tavern (or what passes for a tavern) with a bunch of ne’er-do-wells with guns. From the moment they arrive at the onset of a three-day blizzard, you strongly suspect that everyone is going to end up dead. It’s like The Hateful Eight picks up where Reservoir Dogs left off, with a Mexican stand-off, and its only a matter of time before these eloquent but bloodthirsty idiots do themselves in.
There are some fantastic performances — all of them in fact. Tim Roth is particularly amusing as Oswaldo Mobray, a ludicrously upper-class English hangman who may or may not be all he appears. (Very mild spoiler alert: he isn’t.) Kurt Russell as the gnarled bounty hunter channels John Wayne and spends most of the film handcuffed to Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is brilliant as the condemned Daisy Domergue, by turns repulsive and peculiarly sweet.
When the violence begins, it’s classic Tarantino. Wildly overblown gore, blood that spurts like silly string and body parts that come apart like suicide meringues. At one point the amount of blood and head-guts on Daisy Domergue’s face is truly horrific — a light nosebleed away from Sissy Spacek in Carrie — but because none of the characters are drawn with any real depth, it’s comical rather than heart-rending. You flinch, for sure, but you never really feel anyone’s pain. Essentially, that’s because The Hateful Eight is a cartoon. A gory, lurid cartoon about good and evil, or in this case, evil and evil.
There are of course accusations of racism and misogyny, as there almost always are with Tarantino films. Ignore them. Unless of course you’re easily offended, in which case, heed them. But The Hateful Eight is called The Hateful Eight for a reason. The characters really are hateful. They are vicious and misanthropic. They are — predominantly — racist and misogynistic. Consequently, there’s no shortage of niggers and bitches in this film, particularly niggers. And if that offends you — despite the fact that the characters and the context can certainly be said to require it — you should probably stay away. Go watch Charlie Brown instead.
At three hours, The Hateful Eight will also be far too long for a lot of people, but if you enjoy Tarantino’s dialogue, it won’t drag.
Ultimately, even if it’s not much more than a hip bloodthirsty cartoon, The Hateful Eight is still enormous fun and so much more original and entertaining than just about everything else out there.
My only hope is that before he quits, Tarantino makes a film where he stops trying to impress everyone with how cool and clever he is. Maybe then he’ll make the whole world cry. In a good way.
Originally published at karlwebster.com on January 10, 2016.