The Hateful Eight (2015)
The road to this Western has been a bumpy one, the film was initially announced before the script was later leaked, which caused Quentin Tarantino to throw his toys out of the pram, it happen that scripts get leaked, all to do with his massive ego which you can see in The Hateful Eight (2015). Thankfully he calmed down enough to film it for. We’ve been teased with trailers that had no footage, he wanted to wet our appetites without even a single frame of footage being exposed. And that’s another thing, he has celebrated the fact that it was filmed traditionally on a format that is rarely seen, Ultra Panavision 70 even when film has only been saved by himself and few other die-hard directors for the medium. Its been quite a journey for the film.
Staying with the format of the film, I’m not sure that from where I sat (in packed screen near the front) that I got the full impact. There is something to be said for seeing a physical print of a film, when its projected through light the image has more authenticity, the grain, the noise of the image that bounces on the screen. Its more alive than a crystal clean image that has been delivered on a memory card or transmitted to the cinema. I did however feel overpowered by the commanding presence of the format, not the medium but the screen ratio that forced you at times to move your had to take in all of the action that was at times wall to wall. There are moments when we have just met a few of the 8 that conversations are all you see, the characters heads fill the frame to the point that they are spilling out over the frame. These close-ups are intense, not those of Sergio Leone but something else that draws into the conversation and you don’t want to leave, you’re trapped.
Technically the format has restricted the box-office return that the film will ultimately make. In the UK alone 4 cinema chains cannot show the film as they are no longer equipped with film projectors. It shows the current state of film, but I don’t hear the director complaining, more concerned with the format that its projected in. Previously talking about a roadshow format that could allow audiences to see the film. A very old way of seeing a film. Gone are the days are staggered release in a country, this would however make it more of an event that simply choosing your time and go which we are used to today.
Ok so less about the technicalities of the film and more about the plot, trying to be as a spoiler free as I can. A few days ago I caught Reservoir Dogs (1992) which this has long been compared with. Which to a point it is, and zero to do with Rio Bravo (1959) which I thought, however a strong influence over the length of the dialogue, as much as we don’t just hang with these 8 people we are instead kept in a state of tension as discussion tightens and tightens as the film progresses. That’s after a long stretch on the snowy road up to Minnie’s Haberdashery where the film revolves. We meet one half of the group that will occupy the wood cabin in the snow-storm. Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson returns to another role as Major Marquis Warren, tailor made for the actor who chews up the dialogue and regurgitates is deliciously on the ears. Opposite a semi-regular Kurt Russell as John Ruth the hangman accompanied by his latest bounty in chains, the devilish Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who we are encouraged to feel sorry for. A beaten woman in chains, yet holds her own in the face of a black soldier who fought in the recent civil war.
There are political and racial tensions in the film which do indeed reflect America today, as there isn’t a week goes by when a black person is shot and for very little reason. Something that has seen Tarantino in the news for as he campaigns against. With the arrival of a Confederate soldier Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who has some great lines. I can’t imagine another actor in the role (besides Billy-Bob Thornton) make the balance between comedy and outright racism for other Civil War veteran. The Sheriff of Red Rock, the next town where everyone is heading, for a new job, to die and other to collect payment.
When we finally arrive at Minnie’s we still have to wait before they are still in the same room. It’s all about build-up as we meet the other characters who have already escape the storm. Having just met these we have to start all over again. Most have already been in director/writers films so do take easily to the dialogue. Two from Dogs Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) and Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) who each have the backstories. I personally took to the old cowboy Gage, the centre of the Western genre, waiting to get home to see his mother for Christmas. Of course this is all surface which we have to interrogate between them all. Its all about what we listen and understand. There is one dangerous conversation between Maj. Warren and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) that ends badly for one of them. As an event is grusesomely retold for those in the cabin and us in the audience. It’s also good to see Dern on-screen whose gaining another audience as a cranky old man who can surely bite, the grey hair is only a facade when it comes to Dern.
The structure of the film is broken into 5 chapters, 2 on the road and 3 in the cabin, something that you don’t see in the genre. It helps to structure the film, and allows to breath if only for a moment. I felt the narration by Tarantino just wasn’t necessary, if it was really needed, someone else could have taken on that role. It all adds to the stroking of his ego which is massive to say the least with the comments he has come out with. You easily take out the narration and just carry on. The flashback sequence which does explain a lot goes someway to giving some characters more time.
As with all Tarantino films violence is at the centre, well tale end of the film, its all stacked up and shared out in the last 45 minutes as characters are killed off in shocking order. Saying little as possible, pay no attention to the billing as no-one is safe with a gun in your hand. It’s always a pleasure to see a Tarantino film if only for the dialogue, he’s tried something new year, well rehashed and shaken up as an Agatha Christie as learn who these people are. Heaps of talking, but where I get frustrated with Christie there is no action. There is always the intent of violence. it switches from character to character in the room. They discuss politics, justice and everything in between, opinions are strong and forthright.
Even if Leigh is the only female and gets a lot of grief and violence in her direction she is just as strong as her male counterparts in the film. Westerns are traditionally male heavy which maybe right or wrong, that’s a discussion for another article. What does it however add to the genre though? Its heavily stylized, still violent and rooted in the same era as most Westerns. It’s very contemporary still but not a light watch, it demands your time which is what you can go easier on the classics if you wanted and still enjoy it as a whole.