I'm going to start this review off with a short disclaimer: I'm an unabashed fan of Quentin Tarantino. Kill Bill Vol. I occupies a permanent seat on my "Best of All-Time" list, and Pulp Fiction's significant influence on modern cinema is undeniable. He's brought the visionary artiste director style to mass-market audiences. To paint with broad strokes, I like Tarantino flicks. I did not like The Hateful Eight.
The Hateful Eight (2015) is Tarantino's eighth film, and first since 2012's Django Unchained. The premise of the film is simple enough: eight travelers are snowed into a Wyoming lodge. One of the eight is notorious bounty hunter John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell), a mustachioed bear of a man transporting a bounty (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the nearby town of Red Rock. Joining this cast of characters are another bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson), a former Confederate soldier-turned-Sheriff (Walton Goggins), and five others who act more as suspicious stock characters than human beings. Subtle inconsistencies in their stories reveal that all is not as it seems. Civil War allegiances, racial prejudice, and plain ol' gut feelings confound the would-be detectives and turn The Hateful Eight into a three-hour game of Frontier Clue.
My friends in Screen Arts would like me to know that this is all done to masterfully build tension until the sheer weight of anticipation has the audience on the edge of their seats. I'm just not sure how an hour of plodding backcountry stagecoach chatter accomplishes that goal any better than, say, forty minutes of slightly-less-plodding backcountry stagecoach chatter. Perhaps even thirty minutes of even-slightly-less-plodding backcountry stagecoach chatter. My advice: go easy on the popcorn during previews.
As a whole, it's not bad. No Quentin Tarantino film is "bad." It's unnecessarily drawn out, but still a really well done movie. The Hateful Eight never implies a lack of craft, attention to detail, and general filmmaking prowess. But if we're going to discuss Tarantino film's through the lens of cinema art (not just entertainment), The Hateful Eight is stale. For better or for worse, it feels like every other Quentin Tarantino film, but distilled to 200 proof "unconventional filmmaking."
Throughout the three-hour ordeal, you just can't shake the feeling that you've seen The Hateful Eight before: the mystery-drama bloodbath of Reservoir Dogs, the spaghetti western ultraviolence of Django Unchained, the drawn-out character development vignettes of Inglorious Basterds. In each trope's original form, they were innovative. That constant envelope-pushing is what built the legend of Quentin Tarantino.
The Hateful Eight may be the highest form of those Tarantino conventions, but it's missing the point. Sure, the mechanics get tighter. That's not a bad thing for Transformers or Call of Duty. But when you've made your name in Hollywood by zigging when others zag, that's the fundamental you're now working on. Aestheticized violence, discrete chapter storytelling, and provocative larger-than-life characters were a vehicle for that promise of "something new." 20 years removed from Reservoir Dogs, that vehicle is running out of gas.
Some other minor likes/dislikes: the panoramic shots are gorgeous; Ennio Morricone's score is something else and I hope awards voting reflects it; none of the Four Passengers felt like developed characters; was Cristoph Waltz busy or has the role of "smarmy intellectual murderer" now passed to Roth; the movie could have been half an hour shorter; Channing Tatum's turn to dramatic acting is worth commending even if he's on-screen for all of 3 minutes before getting his head blown off; Kurt Russell gruffly shouts "bitch" a lot.
In the grand scheme of things, The Hateful Eight is not a bad movie. It will still be seen as one of 2015's most significant releases even if only for its director's star power. If you're a Tarantino superfan who can't get enough of purely the results of his formula: you will love The Hateful Eight. You will especially love his approach to scenario-building and possibly even relish how long your cinema experience lasts. Within the Tarantino range, however, it is by far his weakest (and least innovative) blockbuster to date.
To all my Michigan readers, it's like the Ross curve: you're only disappointed with a 3.5 because you know everyone in your class got 4.0's. Is it all relative? Yes. Was I relatively disappointed with this latest iteration of the Tarantino formula? Yes.