It seems like a pattern is developing; when I finally sit down to watch the movies I anticipate the most, I end up getting disappointed.
That was the case with Spectre, but I’m not exactly wallowing in sorrow over that one. But this one freaking hurt.
It’s no secret I absolutely adore Tarantino’s work. Pulp Fiction is my favorite movie, with Reservoir Dogs a close second; I loved both Kill Bill installments, I thought the under-appreciated Jackie Brown was brilliant, and even immensely enjoyed Death Proof, which seems to be the one movie he has practically disowned. Although war movies and westerns aren’t exactly my cup of tea, I thought Inglorious Basterds was excellent, and instantly fell in love with Django Unchained.
Tarantino’s habit of heavily borrowing from different film genres – combined with his trademark style, quirky sense of humor and endlessly quotable scripts, to come up with fascinating stories that become instant classics – resonates with me in the way few movies can. He has an uncanny ability of reinventing and simultaneously paying homage to the genres he references in his movies, and the end results are invariably compelling pieces of film. His casting choices are impeccable, as are his soundtrack selections. There really is nothing about his films I could possibly criticize, and that’s saying a lot.
Even more impressive – to me – is his knack of taking a genre and turning it on its head to produce a movie that’s close enough to its source material to remain in the same category, yet different enough to make converts even out of non-fans of the genre like myself. Such was the case with Django, so I was very excited when it was first announced that his next project would also be a Western.
When the initial script of The Hateful Eight was leaked about a year ago, I strenuously resisted the temptation of reading it. I wanted to savor the experience and avoided spoilers like the plague – including watching the movie trailer. When my favorite writer/director comes up with a new film, I don’t need to see the trailer to decide if I’ll be watching it – it’s pretty much a given. I was devastated when Tarantino reportedly decided to shelf The Hateful Eight because of the leaked script, as he had ‘ten other projects he could work on‘.
Having just watched the movie, I kinda wish he’d finished one of those other projects instead. Especially if one of them involved a Kill Bill sequel (which, by the way, if Q&U still want to eventually produce one, they need to do it while Uma is still relatively young (and hot).
It’s not that The Hateful Eight is bad; it’s just that I expected more. It’s got pretty much all the right ingredients: Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russel in leading roles, an original score by Ennio Morricone (his first in four decades!) and the always awesome Tim Roth and Michael Madsen in supporting roles. Bounty hunters, a blizzard, funny banter, plenty of guns, violence and profanity, a short cameo by Zoë Bell and, the revelation that was Walton Goggins and surprisingly, Jennifer Jason Leigh as a wanted murderer and Channing Tatum as her equally murderous gang leader brother.
In the end, however, the entire movie plays out as the Western equivalent of Reservoir Dogs. A bunch of outlaws come together in one room and we spend the next two hours watching them talk, threat and hurt each other, culminating in a stand-off much like the 1992 masterpiece. Except there’s a bit of a whodunnit thrown in for good measure, and the entire last chapter of the movie reads like something out of an Agatha Christie novel, where Sam Jackson finally reveals how he put all the clues together to determine the culprit, much like Hercule Poirot would, had he been black and lived in the US a century before.
Obviously this doesn’t sound like a bad setup. Like I said, it’s not a bad movie by any means – it’s Tarantino after all, and even recycled Tarantino material is probably better than 96% of the movies out there. It’s just not as exciting as his previous work – or maybe it just grows on you on the second viewing? Time will tell – I might just have to come back and edit this entire post in a few weeks.
As things stand right now, however, The Hateful Eight wasn’t exactly spectacular. Yes, it had all the elements of a good Tarantino movie. Sam Jackson was and always will be a bad motherf*cker, and everyone else was pretty much on par. The dialogue was funny, his trademark monologues were solid, and the story was pretty damn good. It was also a perfect example of how to do a ‘confinement’ movie well – we all know how I love me some of that.
I can’t exactly put my finger on what was missing from this movie, what didn’t wow me like most of his previous work. Maybe it wasn’t as quotable as the others, or maybe I just felt like he was repeating himself by basically combining the genre he last tackled with the movie plot that put him on the map. Whatever it was, it still isn’t enough to take away from the overall enjoyment of the film – but it’s not enough to make me instantly fall in love with it, either.
As underwhelming as I found the final product, it definitely had its moments. From the second we meet John ‘Hangman’ Ruth and his captor Daisy Domergue, Major Marquis Warren and Sheriff Chris Mannix, there is no doubt that these are compelling characters. The entire wagon ride to Minnie’s Haberdashery was awkward and hilarious and offered a lot in the way of exposition without ever becoming tedious.
The largest part of the movie takes place in one large, brilliantly made set of a room where all these nefarious characters find shelter from the raging blizzard. Given each character’s disposition, it’s fair to expect violence from the moment they meet each other, but that’s not the case. This is where Tarantino’s brilliance comes in: we watch and watch as the characters interact with each other, threatening to turn Minnie’s Haberdashery into the bloodbath we’ve come to expect from dear ol’ Quentin, but every time the tension builds to a crescendo it quickly subsides, until the very final chapter. The device is absolutely successful in keeping us glued to the screen, hanging from every word to see what will be the final straw that will send them all into a bloodthirsty rage. And when it does happen, it is immensely satisfying, even if slightly anticlimactic.
And can we just stop for a second and appreciate how marvelous Jennifer Jason Leigh was as a brash, rotten-toothed, bloody tough gal? I hadn’t seen her in anything I actually enjoyed since the 90’s, and boy is this a comeback for the ages. Will the Hateful Eight do for her career what Pulp Fiction did for John Travolta’s? Let’s hope so, because she was freaking brilliant!
Had anyone else put his name on this movie, I probably would be writing page after page of praise; as things stand, I guess high expectations sort of ruined it for me. Who knows, maybe by the time his next movie comes out, I’ll already consider this one a classic.