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.)
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.
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