Released theatrically on December 31st
It's a testament to Quentin Tarantino's unpredictable creative choices that I managed to stick with The Hateful Eight for the duration of its almost three hour running time, despite the major issues I had with it. The movie's title comes from both the fact it's Tarantino's eighth directorial feature (he also wrote the screenplay), as well as the number of principal cast, consisting of Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, and Demián Bechir.
Even more so than The Big Short (which I recently reviewed here), the aptly titled Hateful Eight gives you absolutely no one to root for amongst the motley crew of thieves, liars, and killers who occupy this murder mystery Western. That shouldn't necessarily be a deal-breaker in terms of whether or not a movie can be enjoyed, but it certainly ups the challenge level for viewers. When you add in inconsistent character development, some baffling acting choices, overly gratuitous violence, and a flagrant number of utterances of the n-word, well, the only thing that kept me from bailing out early was a perverse curiosity to see where the unpredictable Tarantino ultimately landed this bloated, slow-cooking mess.
The majority of the film, which is set in Wyoming in the decade following the end of the Civil War, unfolds over the course of a day within a drafty roadhouse named Minnie's Haberdashery, where the converging characters are forced to wait out a nasty snowstorm. Russell's character (John Ruth) is a bounty hunter of great repute, with his latest captured fugitive (Leigh's Daisy Domergue character) shackled to his wrist and destined for the local town of Red Rock for a likely date with the hangman, who just happens to also be at Minnie's (Roth's Oswaldo Mobray character). Also present are Dern's former Southern General character (Sanford Smithers), Goggins' incumbent Red Rock Sheriff character (Chris Mannix), and Madsen's and Bechir's characters, who both have relatively small roles. Jackson's character (Marquis Warren) does most of the film's heavy lifting. He's a former Union officer who's also now in the bounty hunting business and Warren becomes the focal point of the proceedings, partly because of his threatening smarts, but mostly because of the colour of his skin.
The obviously incendiary subject of race less than a decade after the abolition of slavery fuels the tensions between Warren and nearly everyone else in the establishment, permeating the film's narrative to an overbearing degree. I don't expect Tarantino to sugarcoat matters and not reflect the ugliness of the era, but I also don't need to hear the n-word used as ridiculously excessively as it's used throughout this film - roughly 65 times and occasionally numerous times in just one sentence (note: I never censor my writing on this blog, but I find "ni--er" to be the most loathsome word in the English language, so "n-word" will suffice for me). I was surprised to read that it was actually used far more in Tarantino's last film, the slavery-themed Django Unchained - well over 100 times (both counts come from online articles written by folks who are tallying these kinds of things so I very thankfully don't have to). Again, I obviously expect to hear the word in a film set in the slavery era, but Tarantino's overuse of it throughout his filmography and in these two films, in particular, is downright bizarre, distracting, and deeply off-putting.
The Hateful Eight consistently offers up plenty of head scratching moments meant to throw the viewer off-balance, a staple of Tarantino's work that mostly misses here more than it hits. Roth's character exaggerates his Britishness to the hilt, Tarantino regular Zoe Bell shows up briefly and appears to be (over)acting in a completely different movie, Russell's character essentially seems to be doing a bad John Wayne impression and at one point erupts in a fit of rage for no good reason, and Dern's character confusingly does a complete 180 in terms of how he treats Jackson's character. Other curiosities include a woefully miscast big-name actor who shows up in The Hateful Eight's final act, plus Tarantino providing his own narration at seemingly random moments. Then there's the self-indulgent exterior scene towards the film's end of a horse and buggy and its occupants travelling through the countryside, which drags on interminably.
There is some clever writing, compelling intrigue, and some fine acting performances nestled within The Hateful Eight's framework, it's just not nearly enough to overcome the overwhelmingly odious atmosphere of a film that tiredly pummels the viewer with its desire to shock. Even the unmemorable score feels like a wasted opportunity, considering Tarantino enlisted Spaghetti Western legend Ennio Morricone to compose his first Western score in over three decades. My experience could have been worse, though - I could have had to endure the film's even longer "Roadshow version". That version played in limited release in the extinct Ultra Panavision 70mm format, which few people other than Tarantino probably care much about.