As with most Tarantino films, the greatest strength and weakness of Hateful 8 lies in Tarantino himself.
The concept is simple enough, it’s Ten little indians, only swap out the indians for despicable bastards. The Hateful 8 consists 7 men and 1 woman, trapped in a haberdashery due to a blizzard. The players: Michael Madsen’s a country boy who’s on his way home to his mother for the holidays. Walton Goggins’s a useful idiot on his way to be sheriff. Russell’s a brutal bounty hunter transporting a vile female criminal. Samuel Jackson’s a fellow bounty hunter who might have taken the job just to murder white folk. Tim Roth’s a posh hangman, excited at the company. Bruce Dern’s a crotchety old confederate. And, there’s a Mexican.
8 players, for Tarantino’s eighth movie; unfortunately, he felt it necessary to alert the audience of this fact during the opening credits—an odd boast. The credits immediately immerse the audience to the tone of the film. A 70 mm shot of a wooden Christ on a cross, buried beneath inches of snow. Ennio Morrincone’s score adds a haunting element to the landscape—as he has done before with so many other westerns. Even the company logos and the text plastered onto the film stock match the Peckinpah pathos that Tarantino is going for. And then, Boom, “Tarantino’s 8th Film” scrolls across the screen. Why? It’s jarring.
But, he quickly immerses the audience back in to the panaromaic winter hell of Hateful 8. He really does capture the cold—I had to keep my coat on for the duration. A movie hasn’t made me feel that cold since Carpenter’s The Thing—and I doubt it’s by accident either. Superficially, The Thing also stars Kurt Russel, and Ennio Morrincone scored it. It was all I could think of while Walton Goggins hammered a post and rope line between buildings so that they could navigate the blizzard. Tarantino has even admitted in past commentaries that Reservoir Dogs was, in part, inspired by the claustrophobic nature The Thing. There’s also the obvious: Reservoir Dogs, The Thing, and Hateful 8 arises from the same thing, murderous men pushed to the brink by fear of the other. But as much as I’d like to ramble on about The Thing, I’ll get back to the Hateful 8…
Tarantino’s mastery of dialogue is not lost in this film. The guy could take a film from rising action to climax in a few short sentences. And, he does. Every actor’s at the top of their game. Goggin’s steals the screen, Roth gives Cristoff Waltz a run for his money, and Russell is the classic bearded badass. Also, for the first time in a long time, Samuel Jackson was actually acting—that was nice. But just as all those elements are congealing into a succinct movie, Tarantino fucks up the pacing with a smug interruption narrated by himself.
Perhaps the intermissions are different for the road showing of the film(link), but there are two intermissions of this sort in the film and neither were necessary. Tarantino exposes information about the characters that we have figured out for ourselves. It felt condescending. If the Chapter of the film is called “Domergue has a Secret.” I don’t want the director to stop the film and tell me what it is. I want to follow the film to that conclusion. I want to be shown, not told.
I can concede that the side scrolls and voiceovers aren’t a big deal, but they intervene the narrative. And these minor missteps screw up an otherwise perfect film. I can’t stress that enough; every element, be it the actors, script, visuals or score play out beautifully, and serve to reinforce every other element. Tarantino can make great films, I just wish he’d shut up and let them speak for themselves.