Quentin Tarantino has been one of our most consistently daring and compelling America filmmakers for almost a quarter century. His direction is endlessly inventive, and admirably patient. Mr. Tarantino’s screenplays contain wit, intelligence, and a marvelous pop sensibility (two have won him the hat trick of the Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe…those for “Pulp Fiction” and “Django Unchained”). For a number of years now, “Death Proof” was often cited as his weakest effort…an opinion I strongly oppose. I find “DP” to be right up there with his best work, but I have now experienced Quentin’s worst film. “The Hateful Eight” is overlong, vile, and often just plain dull. It’s the first time I was waiting for a Tarantino movie to end…and I witnessed the 20 minutes shorter version!
After some methodical introductions, to a few major characters, “The Hateful Eight” settles into its main, Agatha Christie-like narrative, of eight disparate characters, trapped by a violent blizzard, inside a stagecoach lodge, in late 19th century Wyoming. Kurt Russell is “The Hangman”, chained to his prisoner, the murderous Daisy Domergue (the great Jennifer Jason Leigh). Samuel L. Jackson is “The Bounty Hunter”, and Walton Goggins is “The Sheriff”. Demian Bichir is Bob “The Mexican”, and Tim Roth portrays Oswaldo “The Little Man”. Also, Michael Madsen is “The Cow Puncher”, and soon-to-be octogenarian national treasure, Bruce Dern is General “The Confederate” Smithers. Will any of them still be alive by the time the winter tempest blows by?
“The Hateful Eight” has some virtues. First of all, what a joy to watch legendary composer Ennio Morricone receive his first Oscar (at 87!) for his solid original score. It was his sixth nomination–a number that easily should’ve been doubled. Also, long my favorite film actress, 54-year-old Jennifer Jason Leigh receiving her first Academy Award nomination. Decades of criminal omissions, rectified in one fell swoop by QT, as I forecast he just might do for her (search for it right here on the blog), months before the film opened. And I applaud Mr. Tarantino’s insistence on a luxurious 70 mm release–and 20 minutes longer–“roadshow” version (I watched the 167-minute Blu-ray incarnation, for this review). Of course, the incredible Robert Richardson, also turned in Oscar-nominated work, for his gorgeous cinematography. Oh, and the “Lincoln letter” bit, works like gangbusters.
However, perhaps for the first time, a Quentin Tarantino film became mundane and unbearably ugly. For all his past excesses with violence and bloodletting, it always felt essential to the narrative. In “The Hateful Eight” (and yes, I’m aware of the title), the sadism removed me from the picture. There is a stomach-churning flashback scene, involving forced fellatio, that is played as a sick joke. Also, there is a hanging strangulation towards the finale that was lingered on in a sickening fashion. The movie also contains a late reveal that just feels like a cheap trick–its below QT. The movie has a sterling cast of Tarantino veterans in Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen. But they’ve all turned in better work in the previous films. And did I mention it goes on forever. There’s very little payoff, and this one crossed the line for me. So, if you are only a borderline Tarantino fan, you can skip this one completely, and you won’t be missing much. And I absolutely hate to write that.