Hateful Eight: A Long Day’s Journey

At the risk of sounding like the little boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” I feel I must blurt out a few truths about Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight: it’s  ridiculously overlong, needlessly shot in Ultra Panavision 70, and (dare I say it?) downright boring at times.

But as Tarantino has an accommodating patron in Harvey Weinstein and no one looking over his shoulder, if he chooses to stretch out a talky mostly sedentary story past the three-hour mark, and shoot it in a 70mm widescreen format better suited to outdoor epics, so be it. And if he wants the great Ennio Morricone to compose a score (including an overture), that also comes to pass. The fact that it’s one of the maestro’s least memorable or compelling compositions is just a quibble.

I admire Quentin Tarantino for many reasons, not the least being his devotion to the medium of motion-picture film, but self-indulgence has always been his Achilles’ heel. This matters not to his blindly faithful followers, but too often I find myself frustrated that he can’t, or won’t, discipline himself. (This has nothing to do with arbitrary length: one of my favorite of his films is Grindhouse, which runs three hours long in its original form and hasn’t a dull moment.)

Samuel L. Jackson-H8-680

Photo Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

The Hateful Eight is perversely reminiscent of John Ford’s landmark Western Stagecoach, in which a group of disparate individuals find themselves spending time together at a way-station. But in Ford’s film the segment is the centerpiece of the movie, surrounded by action, and here the feeling is that of a one-set play that just goes on and on.

Not that there aren’t things to enjoy along the way. Samuel L. Jackson fans will relish his robust performance as Major Marquis Warren, a Union soldier-turned-bounty hunter who hitches a ride on a stagecoach containing another man of his profession (Kurt Russell), who’s bringing in his latest prey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and planning to collect $10,000 on delivery at Red Rock. They’re joined by another stranded individual caught in the blinding snowstorm: an ornery Southerner (Walton Goggins) who claims that he’s the new sheriff in Red Rock. But their plans may be overturned by one or more of the people they encounter at a cabin where they stop during the storm.

That’s where we meet the rest of the ensemble: British hangman Tim Roth, laconic cowboy Michael Madsen, temporary caretaker of the stagecoach stop Demian Bichir, and former Confederate officer Bruce Dern. Thus begins a series of teasing encounters and power plays as the isolated characters sniff each other out. What’s really going on, and which of these men aren’t who they seem to be? Tarantino hoards the answers until after intermission (which comes at the 101-minute mark, and not a moment too soon). Part Two begins with an unexpected piece of narration summarizing what’s taken place so far and revealing the backstories of several heretofore inscrutable figures. There are even flashback scenes to fill in other gaps.

Now that we know who’s who, and what’s truly at stake, the story begins to coalesce… and we finally get some action and the kind of violence we’ve come to expect from Tarantino. It’s about time.

Bruce Dern-H8-1-680

Photo Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Cinematographer Robert Richardson takes advantage of the Ultra Panavision lenses to frame the cabin-bound characters in interesting and dynamic ways. Every detail of Yohei Taneda ‘s production design is shown off to advantage in the super-sharp detail of the widescreen frame. But the question remains as to how much this really adds to the effectiveness of a chamber piece such as this.

The actors clearly relish their roles, with Russell in his element and Leigh a standout as the comically manhandled prisoner (if you can get past the idea of a woman being treated in such a cartoonishly violent manner), and Channing Tatum quite effective in a revealing flashback. My main complaint is that Dern has so little to do.

Tarantino followers will certainly flock to see what he identifies onscreen as his eighth feature film; I was as curious as anyone to see what he had in store, and how the movie would look in 70mm. But I have to classify The Hateful Eight as a disappointment on all counts. Any Quentin Tarantino film is an Event, but this is one I’d just as soon forget

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024