Quentin Tarantino’s bloody Western whodunit isn’t afraid to push boundaries of cinema or human decency, but “The Hateful Eight” gets swallowed in its own ambition when attempting to be something new. The film holds little-to-no replay value, a first for a director whose movies are so repeatedly viewed, they been regularly adorned as posters on college dorm rooms for the past three decades. “The Hateful Eight’s conclusion, while delightfully depraved, renders any joy we experienced to be absolutely meaningless.
That sounds nihilistic but it’s true. Everyone is dead by the end of “The Hateful Eight.” It’s a chance encounter sealed with a violent fate, a game of Russian Roulette where there was a bullet in every chamber. Unlike “Reservoir Dogs,” where the only logical conclusion was for everyone to die, it feels wholly wrong to not let a single person be left alive here. Other Tarantino movies demonstrate a need to watch again so we can get more enjoyment now that we know certain plot elements. “The Hateful Eight” is designed to do that, as the story doesn’t truly reveal itself until its second act. But that design is faulty, as the “knowing what we know now” aspect has a much weaker effect.
The story follows Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a black bounty hunter who is freeing his ass off in Wild West Wyoming. A carriage comes onto his path, carrying two passengers, John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Domergue wears her colorful tongue and black eye with pride, causing Ruth some worthwhile annoynace, since he’ll be able to reap a large reward upon her death. They also meet Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a soon-to-be sheriff in need of getting hoem.
As a blizzard approaches, their carriage is forced to stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a roadside joint now being taken care of by a Mexican man named Bob (Demian Bichir). Inside the joint are three peculiar men: a lively brit named Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a soft-spoken cowboy named Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and a confederate curmudgeon named Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). Here, Tarantino employs his classic penchant for ruminating dialogue and racial tension, and it is honestly a joy to watch even though not much is happening.
And then stuff happens. Warren kills Smithers, somebody poisons Ruth, Warren kills Bob, continuing down a bloody trail until everyone and I mean everyone is gone. It’s as brutal and delightfully masochistic when watching these characters get killed, the biggest exemplar in this film of Tarantino’s magic as a moviemaker. We can’t help get a big zit from all his greasy characters, and there’s nothing as relieving as when they’re finally popped.
But, when most of the gang is gong and the film is in its final act, the story loses its stakes, its storytelling nails ripped clean from the door. We don’t care who lives or dies, and in turn, lose all incentive to watch. Maybe I’m saying that now since I’ve seen “The Hateful Eight” already, and on the first viewing it was a much more cathartic experience. Now, it’s just old cowboy hat.
It’s a good film, and in terms of pure filmmaking technique alone, it stands slightly better than “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained.” The direction, editing and cinematography here is exemplary, everything clearly thought out but not overthought. But in terms of just a good movie, it fails far in comparison to his masterful works like “Pulp Fiction,” “Reservoir Dogs” and “Kill Bill.” There’s no memorable piece of dialogue here, no character or characters who stand the test of time. Jackson and crew are all wildly animated, but none are worthy of starring in their own Tarantino cartoon.