Monday, May 16, 2016

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight had a lot on its side as it came into fruition and I, for one, was interested in its creative inception from the start.  It’s not to say I’m a huge Tarantino fan—I’ve seen all his films and have enjoyed them all—but I’m not one to chomp at the bit once I’ve heard one of his films is scheduled to be released.  Most of his films I’ve seen were usually viewed in the comfort of my home and not in a theater.  In fact, Inglourious Basterds is the only one I’d seen in a theater and that’s because a friend of mine wanted to see it so I reluctantly went (subsequently loving the movie).  I think that’s always my mindset when I hear of a Tarantino film—I always plan to watch it when it’s released on home media.

It’s funny…the world almost didn’t get to see this film due to the script being leaked online, angering Tarantino to the point where he’d said he was going to scrap it.  I can see his point in some regards, but we all have to understand that it’s nearly impossible for any studio or filmmaker to keep anything a secret in this day and age—especially any project by a well-known filmmaker such as Quentin Tarantino.  Ultimately, he changed his mind and in December of last year, the film was released and garnered very favorable reviews.

Without further ado, let me give you a breakdown of the story…

In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell), is travelling to the town of Red Rock to bring his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to be hanged and collect on her ten thousand dollar bounty.  Along the way, Ruth is soon joined by Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins) as they need to get to the town of Red Rock for their own reasons—Warren is collecting on bounties of his own and Mannix says he’s the new sheriff of the town.  However, a blizzard is on their tail and they need to find shelter for a few days.  They finally find a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters that may or may not have ill intentions of their own.

As we get into the meat of the story, which takes place mainly in the cabin—or Minnie’s Haberdashery as we later find out it is to be—the set-up of the plot feels like the John Carpenter film, The Thing, whereas paranoia sets in quickly as John Ruth feels someone within the cabin isn’t who they say they are (I’ll get into the references to The Thing later), thinking that one of the four men there knows his prisoner and is planning to help free her.  It’s totally set up as a mystery play—later, playing out as a “who-done-it” scenario—even evoking little musings of Reservoir Dogs in there somewhere, and this is where it all gets interesting.

With the performances throughout, the one thing that smacks you in the face—and has always been a matter of controversy in Tarantino’s films (especially Django Unchained)—is the use of the N-word.  Unfortunately, if you really want to capture the authenticity of the story, to make it feel like it really is taking place in post-Civil War, that’s a word that was thrown around a lot.  What I really take interest in are the actors who use the word in their dialogue, sometimes having to yell it into the face of the only African-American actor in most scenes—Samuel L. Jackson.  But besides the use of that uncouth word, the mannerisms and language used appeared authentic, being believable that the dialogue used would be the type of conversation you might’ve heard back then.

The standout, to me, in this film was Jennifer Jason Leigh.  She seemed to capture the essence of a vulgar female lawbreaker, being foulmouthed, unladylike, and just overall unpleasant.  However, she had some funny lines and great comic timing alongside (literally) Kurt Russell’s character.  Even though it was shown in the trailer, I loved the part where Russell’s bounty hunter character was explaining to the others how she was to be taken into Red Rock to be hanged.  At that point, she comically pantomimed herself being hanged, sticking out her tongue, and that caused a chuckle to come out of me.

Kurt Russell, as of late, has grown to be perfect in playing gruff old men, with a great head of hair and a hell of a mustache.  I’d liked him in Bone Tomahawk and he seemed to have filmed these movies back-to-back…not necessarily playing the same character because in The Hateful Eight, he plays a bit of a dick.  He’s almost to the point of unlikable as he’s constantly hitting and belittling Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character.  But since her portrayal is one of a female scoundrel and very unpleasant herself, it paints Russell’s bad character in a good light, albeit a hazy light.

Although I’d been looking forward to seeing Kurt Russell in this film, it was Samuel L. Jackson who’d received top billing in this film and deservedly so.  He’s been a staple in most of Tarantino’s films, always standing out in his performances as having memorable stories or speeches.  In Pulp Fiction, you had the intimidating conversation and the eventual biblical quote he recites before shooting his victim.  Here?  You get one hell of an account he lays out, which I'll get into in a bit.

As for the mysterious men that John Ruth, Daisy Domergue, Major Warren, and Sheriff Mannix run into, they’re quite a collection of characters: the Englishman, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), General Smithers (Bruce Dern), Señor Bob (Demián Bichir), and Joe Gage (a very gravelly Michael Madsen).  They each had their own interesting characteristics and even had a nice development on how they came upon Minnie’s Haberdashery in a little flashback scene.

As with all Tarantino films, you get a lot of dialogue here, especially the tale that Jackson’s character recounts to General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern).  With the use of flashbacks, the story he tells is uncomfortable and makes him a bit displeasing due to the graphic nature of what he details.  In this film, you get a lot of dialogue—not so much like we’d gotten in his film, Death Proof, but almost.  But that’s what makes this movie interesting and moves it along, giving us great development of the characters and to see if we can guess whether their intentions are hostile or harmless.  Without any of their expositions or backstories, this film would be quite boring as we’d just be waiting to see if something bad is going to happen.

Now, to get into the score is a little tricky.  Ennio Morricone had masterfully composed the music for this film and I could never bad-mouth any score he’s composed.  But one thing I’d noticed when starting this film is that the music didn’t seem to match the movie I was watching.  Don’t get me wrong, the music is beautiful and is filled with a lot of emotion, but it just seemed to be describing a different film during the commencement of this film.  Maybe I was expecting your average western score with guitars and banjos…I don’t know…but I’d only had that feeling during the beginning when it featured exterior shots of the horse-drawn wagon travelling through the snow. 

I won’t give too much away from this film and its story, but there’s a scene within that becomes pretty climactic.  Before this part comes to a head, the music swells to help with what’s showing and it works pretty well.  Yet, as a huge John Carpenter fan, I’ve seen most of his films and some of them multiple times—one of them being 1982’s The Thing.  Morricone also composed the score for that film and I know it very well.  So much so, that the music in the scene I’d just mentioned is almost identical to a cue in The Thing and I couldn’t help but think of the Carpenter film when the scene played out.  Upon further research of this film, I’d read that Tarantino had said that some of the music cues here were unused compositions from Carpenter’s film.  I can’t help to think that was a bad decision—to me, it’s very obvious they were from The Thing…but maybe to the average movie-goer it’s not so noticeable.

Just to note, the cinematography by Robert Richardson is breathtaking during the exterior shots, especially the panoramic shots as the wagon is travelling through the snow.  I’d heard they had to improvise a bit to shoot the blizzard scenes but I can’t tell that there was any setbacks—it looks like they went to the arctic to film this.

All around, this film was a neat little tale and one that I wasn’t expecting.  Hearing of the title, The Hateful Eight, made me think of such classics as The Magnificent Seven or The Wild Bunch where you had a group of cowboys banding together.  But it didn’t take away from the film when I began to understand what it was all about.  If there was anything that I could complain about was the narration by Quentin Tarantino that popped in every so often.  It wasn’t so bad, but it seemed out of place for some reason.  Perhaps Tarantino should’ve had someone else perform the task, like, say, Sam Elliott? 

My final “bit” on The Hateful Eight?

As I’d said, I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a film Quentin Tarantino has directed or written.  He has a gift in writing dialogue, making it seem like it comes natural for the actor who’s reciting it, creating such interesting narrative to add to the story or include it as a subplot.  He really is nailing down all the possible film categories over his career and you really can’t hold him down to one type that he’d be known for and remembered.  But The Hateful Eight will keep you enthralled and entertained, waiting to see how the story will end and who will be left standing.  If you love the films of Tarantino, this film shouldn’t be missed.