Wednesday, January 27, 2016
The Hateful Eight
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (Quentin Tarantino, 2015)
A snowstorm is blanketing the Wyoming landscape in white in THE HATEFUL EIGHT when Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) stops a stagecoach in the hope that he might catch a ride to Red Rock and get out of the elements. After the Civil War, Marquis became a bounty hunter. He has three bodies stacked and ready to be cashed in if he can find transportation. To get on the stagecoach he must persuade John Ruth (Kurt Russell) that he means him no harm. John is known as The Hangman because he doesn’t kill his bounties but rather waits to see them strung up by their necks, and he’s not too eager for company due to the fact that he is cuffed to Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whose bounty will fetch the high price of ten thousand dollars.
As it so happens, Marquis and John are acquainted, thus granting him a seat. On their way they also reluctantly pick up Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), whose claim to be the next sheriff of Red Rock is greeted dubiously considering his involvement with a notorious southern militia during the war. With the bad weather increasing, they stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they find Bob (Demián Bichir), who is watching the place in Minnie’s absence; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman en route to Red Rock; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowboy headed home; and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), an old Confederate in search of his missing son. Distrust and dislike runs high among this bunch of scoundrels, but whether they like it or not, the heavy snow requires they share the shelter.
Writer-director Quentin Tarantino confines this nefarious octet and waits patiently for them to kill each other. THE HATEFUL EIGHT filters Agatha Christie’s mysteries through Tarantino’s distinct sensibilities regarding violence, dark humor, cinema history, and savoring of language. In effect it is a chamber drama, just one that is bloodier, more vulgar, and angrier. It’s also as though he’s stretched the farm interrogation scene from INGLORIOUS BASTERDS into a three-hour plus film of its own. While the majority of THE HATEFUL EIGHT is bound to a single location, Tarantino finds numerous ways to explore the space and present those occupying it while keeping plenty of room for the unexpected. Much has been made of Tarantino shooting the film on 70mm and in a 2.76:1 aspect ratio, which some have shrugged off as overkill, but the wider frame and increased picture clarity are crucial to the actors’ blocking and detail awareness.
Tarantino’s preoccupation with screen violence is complicated and, depending on one’s perspective, problematic. As in his other films, he treats the bloodshed as something pleasurable to view and abhorrent, often concurrently. Perhaps more than anything else he’s made, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is concerned with that contradiction between our best and worst impulses, except here it’s under the guise of considering the difference between justice and frontier justice. If the title doesn’t make it clear that the characters are not good people, their actions should, yet it’s hard to resist the enjoyment in watching these silver-tongued devils behave horribly. Call such an attraction to depravity original sin if you like. As depicted in this film it’s very entertaining.
Extracting a clear thesis from THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a fool’s errand, although Tarantino seems to have followed DJANGO UNCHAINED with another exploration of this country’s racial history reflected in the present. Marquis’ Lincoln letter is a fantastic device for showing how he can pass in a society that is largely unaccepting of him because of his skin color. His anguished cry of “wake up white boy” near the film’s end echoes across the generations. With Tarantino’s work the subtext tends to be secondary to more immediate satisfactions and more muddled too. Still, it’s hard to ignore the seething rage in THE HATEFUL EIGHT behind the humor and impeccably lit images.