The Hateful Eight [2016]

I think I really became aware of Quentin Tarantino when I went to see Deathproof. At that time Jackie Brown was the only one of his oeuvre I hadn’t seen, but I’d watched those earlier films as films – after Deathproof I watched and re-watched them as expressions of a singular creative vision. More than any other filmmaker of our generation, Tarantino is an auteur, making films precisely as he wants. Some critics, probably most critics that I follow, have argued that what he needs is an editor and that may be true from the perspective of film qua film, but it’s manifestly untrue when it comes to compromising the design of a whole film. The, arguably spoiler-free, complaint that most people seem to have about The Hateful Eight is the 38-minute meander to get the core characters together and on location. If those same critics aren’t bitter about the 146-minute running time of The Shining, it’s because Tarantino doesn’t yet have the rosy-tinted historical sheen of Stanley Kubrick. And let’s not forget that the 122-minute running time of Vertigo is something like a third of the way through before we even meet Kim Novak. I find myself arguing that Quentin Tarantino is the Hitchcock or Kubrick of our age, and the thing to do with someone with such a particular and definite vision of film is to either not bother with them, or to go with them wholeheartedly. The Hateful Eight is languorous, indulgent, and features the best habits of Tarantino’s highly stylised dialogue. The cinematography, acting, production design – all wonderful. I found the score a little bland, but let’s not quibble.

I think once you discard the notion of cutting and carving The Hateful Eight down to a 90-minute conventional genre piece – a Western, say – you’re left with a film which draws on all Tarantino’s different interests and pulls them together so that they form something like a complete story. That is to say, one of Tarantino’s persistent problems is in having a film with too many endings. Perhaps Jackie Brown excepted, all have several complete stories, after which our protagonists dust themselves off and continue to the next story. I intend no contradiction when I say that his best film, Django Unchained suffered the most from this, and that his most successful film, Pulp Fiction, turns this structural peculiarity into its greatest strength without resolving it. Finally, in The Hateful Eight, Tarantino achieves something like an Aristotelian Unity Of Action ™. So despite its long running time relative to the number of story beats, The Hateful Eight is his most tightly formed and structured work to date. I’m sure there are elements that could be cut on structural grounds, but to me each scene seemed meticulously placed to convey the emotional state needed for the piece as a whole to work.

By now you’ve probably got the gist that I liked this quite a lot – but what exactly is it? One of the things to like about this film is that it’s not actually a particularly good fit for any one genre box, but it very adroitly uses genre tools to make component scenes work. This is something Tarantino tried in Inglourious Basterds, lifting elements from Hitchcock for that amazing opening scene, classic war movies for Michael Fassbender’s introduction, borrowing from his own table-based chit-chat in the subterranean cafe, using bits of heist movies – and each scene was amazing, but it didn’t quite fall together. The largest component of the drama is the Locked Room ™ drama whose best exemplar is 10 Little Niggers (AKA And Then There Were None), closely followed by 12 Angry Men (either version). Within the Locked Box, we have the classic Western standoff, we have something of a whodunit, and we have the paranoia of a conspiracy film.

I don’t think this will end up a 5-star classic of its kind the way I think people will continue to venerate Pulp Fiction forever, and it didn’t have the emotional impact for me of Django Unchained. It is what it is, which is gripping, well made, and purely entertaining.

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