Someone needs to tell Quentin Tarantino it isn’t 1956.
Back then, after black-and-white televisions first entered American homes, and color and widescreen movies were becoming the norm, it was commonplace for large-scale epics to begin with an overture, include an intermission, and run longer than three hours. Filmmakers, critics and moviegoers were swept away by the grandeur and excess of it all, and the box office responded in kind. But by the late ’60s American culture changed, color TVs entered the fray, and the grandiose cinematic fad passed.
Just somebody forgot to clue in Tarantino, whose worst enemy has always been Quentin Tarantino. For as great as some of his movies are (Pulp Fiction), there are times when he overwrites and under-edits.
Giving him the canvas of a ’50s epic – as The Weinstein Company has done here – just encourages him to overdo everything, and not surprisingly, that’s exactly what he does in The Hateful Eight. After a lengthy Ennio Morricone (The Untouchables) orchestral overture, the first two hours of the 182-minute film are all talk. First inside a stagecoach traveling a snowy road in frosty Wyoming, then inside a cabin in which our protagonists are trapped while waiting out a snowstorm.
The dialog is clever and witty and long-winded, but it is wholly original with the exception of Tarantino’s inexplicable comfort with the N-word, which now feels trite in his movies rather than bracing.
The story is set a few years after the Civil War, and inside the stagecoach is a motley assortment of folks you’d walk to the other side of the street to avoid. They include: bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), former union soldier turned bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a loose cannon who claims to be the nearby town’s new sheriff.
With the blizzard closing in they stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a log cabin motel of sorts, for lodging. They’re greeted by four unfamiliar faces: Bob (Demian Bichir), who’s taking care of Minnie’s business while she’s visiting her mother, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a hangman, cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). Naturally, no one is to be trusted and things are not as they seem.
After a 12-minute intermission the film takes a different tack: Over the last hour the plot moves quickly, the violence is grisly and unexpected, there’s a flashback, and Channing Tatum appears out of nowhere. Similar to how the two halves of Kill Billwere different in tone and style, The Hateful Eight embraces extensive exposition in the first act only to have it all come to a swift and brutal resolution in the second. More balance between the two acts would’ve allowed it to feel coherently structured, which would result in the resolution meaning more.
Everything about The Hateful Eight – the running time, dialog, musical score, violence, you name it – feels excessive.
And yet there’s something about it that’s deliciously appealing and cinematic.
Perhaps it’s Tarantino’s clear love for his subject matter shining through.
Or the fact that Tarantino’s style always allows for a rare and unique moviegoing experience, and there’s value in that at a time when homogeneity is the norm. Regardless, The Hateful Eight is both three hours at the movies that you will not soon forget and three hours you’ll never want to relive.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2 1/2) Directed by Quentin Tarantino • Starring Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Madsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Dern • Rated R • 168 min. • At Maya Cinemas, Century Cinemas Del Monte, Northridge Cinemas, Lighthouse Cinemas.