(originally published Jan 03, 2016)
The Hateful Eight showcases Quentin Tarantino at his most skilled, and perhaps his most audacious. Capping off a trilogy of historical films, H8 eschews the revisionist approach to history that he took with Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, instead holding up a mirror to the audience and offering some bold, nasty commentary stuffed in a slow-burning powder-keg of violence and hatred.
The title is no bullshit. All eight people that are deemed hateful are indeed hateful. They're fun to watch because the performances are stellar across the board, but there really isn't a hero, which could turn some people off. Samuel L. Jackson's character of Marquis Warren is probably the closest thing we have to a hero, but even he does some pretty nasty shit throughout the film. Kurt Russell's John "The Hangman" Ruth is the person who we follow to Minnie's Haberdashery, and is arguably the only one there with any sort of code or moral compass. He could be considered the protagonist here, but only for the first third of the film. Once they get to Minnie's, it becomes everyone's show.
The lack of a clear protagonist may make this a hard one for some viewers to latch onto, but this film isn't really about one character's arc. This is about what happens when you stick a bunch of bad people with strong personalities in a snowed-in outpost right after the Civil War. We as the audience are watching a social experiment unfold, like watching rats in a maze, more than we are watching someone get from point A to point B, emotionally or otherwise.
It's unlike anything QT has done, although it resembles Reservoir Dogs in that it features a bunch of people in one room, and there are some truths that needs to be uncovered. Quentin has never been shy about the thought that our differences can be resolved with a little ultraviolence, but never has he been more gleefully subversive or politically-charged.
The use of an original score (by Ennio Morricone, no less) also makes this stand apart from his prior work. He still managed to sneak in some pop tunes, but most of the (sparse) soundtrack is occupied by Morricone, both original pieces for H8, and unused pieces from his score for The Thing (which is appropriate given how many elements this film shares with The Thing).
Tarantino's directorial flourishes are all over this film. The dialogue and camera move with a kind of musical fluidity that only he is capable of. It's like watching a dance the way his actors talk, and the way the camera lets us listen to them. The fact that it all takes place in one location means that the film has a very theatrical quality to it, and I can see how this script would have excelled as a stage play.
If you can still see the roadshow version, I can't recommend it enough. It's the best way to see this exquisitely-shot film. The 70mm projection is beautiful, the presentation is classy, and it just feels special. 65mm film has traditionally been a way to capture stunning, epic exteriors, but in H8 it's used to capture every nuance of the actors' expressive faces, and make us feel like we're inside Minnie's with these people. Spatial awareness is at an all-time high here.
This, like Jackie Brown, will probably end up being one of the most divisive QT films. I would recommend it to everybody because I really loved it, but if you don't really jive with QT I don't think you're going to jive with this too much either. It's Tarantino at both his most restrained and most unrestrained. It's ruthless filmmaking.