I have a pretty positive track record with Tarantino films, with the Kill Bills probably at the top of my list. I was worried this film might hit a lot of the same notes as Django Unchained, as it has a very similar aesthetic, aside from the season. Was Tarantino’s eighth movie able to impress?
We meet “The Hangman” John Ruth (Kurt Russell) as he’s traveling with a bounty, the deceptive and dangerous Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). If he can deliver her to the nearest city, he’ll receive a hefty sum of money, but they’re now caught in a blizzard. They seek refuge in a small homestead nearby, with 7 other individuals with potentially nefarious desires. We’ve got Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a former soldier for the North during the war. We’ve got Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the soon-to-be Sheriff of the town that Ruth is heading to. We also have a trio of unknown visitors, who we slowly learn more about (Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern). Lastly, we have Bob (Demien Bichir), a Mexican who is caring for the homestead in its owners’ absence.
Once all these characters are trapped together in this place, John Ruth believes one or more of them may be there with the intention to free Daisy and stop him from delivering her, so it becomes a murder-mystery style movie of deducting peoples’ true intentions.
Visually, the film is great. It looks sharp, there are some cool stylized moments, and they manage to make the homestead feel like an additional character in the story.
The cast is great and it’s fantastic to see Kurt Russell back in a leading role. He absolutely nails it. Everyone plays their part great, even if the characters are completely unlikable (as that’s intentional). Jennifer Jason Leigh had the hardest task, being the only woman in the cast. Her character is interesting, as I found myself mentally battling if she was deserving of the treatment she was given. There’s quite a bit of violence towards her, which is hard to watch, but they also make her character so horrible and vile that it almost seems deserved. It’s very conflicting.
I also want to shoutout Walton Goggins, who plays the Sheriff. Goggins first impressed me on Sons of Anarchy as a transgender woman named Venus (who was one of the most compelling characters on that show) and he also stole the show as the villain The Laugher in last summer’s American Ultra. I haven’t seen Justified or The Shield, but he had substantial roles in those as well. He has some incredible range and here, however unlikable he was, he always electrified the screen when he was on it.
What didn’t work?
For me, this might be my least favorite Tarantino movie. I can see the technical expertise but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it. This movie has a lot of factors that make it difficult to watch. It tackled the issues of race and slavery in a similar vein to what Django did, though on opposite ends of the Civil War, but I felt this one was much more forced and unnatural. The amount of profanity and language felt unnecessary. “Have you ever seen a Tarantino movie?” Yes. Those movies worked. The violence in Kill Bill worked. The violence in Django Unchained worked. Here, the violent sections felt too indulgent, like it was violence just for violence’s sake. Shock value without substance.
The movie was also way too long. At nearly 3 hours long, they could’ve trimmed at least 30 or 40 minutes easily. There are moments where they show a wagon traveling and it takes like 5 minutes of screentime for them to get to their destination. Just scenery shots. It looks great, yes, but that sort of pacing lost me as I was desperately wanting to get my phone out, which I never want to do. The dialogue heaviness of the movie feels very theatrical, but that format doesn’t work for cinema. It just dragged a few times and could’ve been tightened up.
You will enjoy The Hateful Eight if you truly know what you’re getting into. This is a (somewhat disgustingly) violent movie, full of profanity and dark humor. There were scenes that were incredibly difficult to watch. The payoff, if you don’t mind all that stuff, is an interesting Clue-like mystery that will keep you guessing peoples’ intentions. The performances are great, mostly notably Walton Goggins who steals the show. Tarantino shows off some exceptional filmmaking but he showed very little restraint, culminating in a 3-hour movie that couldn’t been trimmed down a lot and still kept its story. I personally wouldn’t put this at the top of my Tarantino list but I’ve heard from a few people I really respect that would, so you might fall in that category. For me, I’d recommend a pass, at least until it hits Netflix eventually.