THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenwriter: Quentin Tarantino
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Samuel L. Jackson
Runtime: 187 minutes (70mm); 167 minutes (Digital)
Australian release date: 14 January 2016
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on 11 January 2016 (70 mm. version).
Say what you like about Quentin Tarantino but he never does anything by halves. The Hateful Eight, his eighth film, takes us back to the days of the ‘big’ Hollywood movies of the 1960s, when the studios were fighting off the rise of television by making event cinema, replete with long running times, massive screens, orchestral overtures, printed programs and intervals. I’m talking about films like Lawrence of Arabia, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Battle of the Bulge. Tarantino and his regular cinematographer, Robert Richardson, have shot this film on Ultra Panavision 70, which has a ratio of 2.76:1, a format that was last used in 1966 on Khartoum, and the effort was worth it – the exteriors, shot in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, are a visual treat. Try to see the film version if you can; it also has 20 more minutes of footage than the digital one.
Tarantino’s script unfolds in chapters and is set not long after the end of the American Civil War when both the North and the South were still licking their wounds and coming to terms with the new world order, and resentment abounded on all sides. Bounty hunter John 'The Hangman' Ruth (Kurt Russell) is taking gang leader Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock to end her days on the gallows when he encounters fellow man hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and ex-Confederate marauder Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins - Django Unchained), the soon-to-be sheriff of Red Rock. Reluctantly, he agrees to share his coach with the two natural born enemies until a blizzard forces them to take shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a hostelry on the slopes of the Rockies. There they encounter four men who have also taken refuge from the savage snow storm, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), 'Mexican' Bob (Demian Bichir) and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). From here on in the film becomes more of a Poirot-like whodunit than a classic western because you just know that all is not as it seems and no one is who they say they are.
Taken at face value, the story is great fun (albeit with lashings of Tarantino’s trademark violence – you have been warned!) and will keep you enthralled waiting for the ‘reveal’ that will explain all, but on a deeper level this is a treatise on race relations in the USA from the Civil War to the present day. It’s hard to believe that this was not intentional but the writer/director opines that he, “didn’t know that it was going to be such a serious meditation on the post-Civil War era, and I had no idea that events in the news would be corresponding with the themes we were dealing with… You’ve got institutional racism running rampant in this country. We’ve got into a polarised, lines-drawn camp that we haven’t experienced since the Civil War.”
It goes without saying that the cinephile film-fan Tarantino would adhere to the highest technical standards and The Hateful Eight has employed men and women at the zenith of their skills to reach the requisite heights. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is crisp and clean and beautifully lit and production designer Yohei Taneda, another previous collaborator with QT, has brought the 1860s to life with great skill. The interior of Minnie’s in particular is a visual smorgasbord, an Aladdin’s cave of period detail. Best of all, however, is veteran composer Ennio Morricone’s wonderful score, already a Golden Globe winner and a strong possibility for an Oscar. Morricone has given us many wonderful soundtracks over his 70-year career and I’d venture to say that this is up there with his best, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. Bravo, maestro!
If there’s a downside to The Hateful Eight it’s in the casual misogyny depicted. Granted, these were brutal times, all the more so for women, but I wonder why Tarantino decided to make John Ruth’s prisoner a woman when she could so easily have been a man. Daisy’s certainly no angel but her treatment at the hands of the men goes from bad to simply horrifying and the other female characters in the film aren’t treated much better. That said, it would be a great loss to cinema if Tarantino, as he has declared, retires after his 10th film. That only gives two more to go so make the most of this one while you can.