Nobody tackles or causes controversy like Quentin Tarantino. May it be sexism, sexploitation, racism – and with a growing presence in his films, politics – he dives straight in, fearless and without restraint. While he is used to receiving mixed reviews from film critics – and this film received mixed reviews galore – the ultimate genius film(making) fanman managed to mix and split something else in two with his latest project: his fandom.
I openly admit that I am a huge fan of Tarantino. I have seen all of his films and watched some of them beyond count. He is a master of reinvention and his love for film shines out of all of his projects. Perhaps we, his fans, love him especially because he is a film lover living every film lover’s dream. He is us, but also shining as “them”. So we cannot wait to see his projects, marvelling at his repeatedly fresh approaches and brilliant dialogues, while searching for hidden tributes to classic films and enjoying his twists on classic genres.
When we were told that he will follow up Django Unchained (2012) with another, western-type of film, we all got excited. When he decided to create his eighth feature using the 70 mm film to make the format more genuine, we applauded. Then the cast was revealed – all excellent actors to boot, and we heard that Ennio Morricone signed up as the composer for the project, and the hype escalated through the roof. In part, we can all blame this hype, since it set the bar truly high – and it is almost heartbreaking that, for some of us, The Hateful Eight failed to reach it.
The Hateful Eight is classified as an American Western film, even though the story takes place post-Civil war with palpable racial tensions. The audience is pulled straight into the happening of the first sequence, with an air of impending doom being so thick, one basically starts the film off by already sitting on the edge of the seat. So far, so good. But as the film progresses and we meet the characters one by one, we bump into the first wall. Perhaps not a massive wall, but it is impossible to overlook that the otherwise brilliant Tim Roth – at least at the beginning – exudes the air of Waltz. Christoph Waltz, to be more exact; and it is hard to say whether the act is deliberate. The core plot line then takes place on a single stage/room, feeling more like a play and not a film at certain moments, and with an exceptional performance by the cast. As the story progresses, the plot thickens and twists, the fourth wall gets broken, violence ensues in progressively more gruesome stages, and the only thing left alive after the final death toll is a begrudging sense of justice. And yet, as the end credits roll, instead of the usual post-Tarantino glow, us naysayers of The Hateful Eight are left with an unusual sense of emptiness.
If we look at The Hateful Eight without the “stamp” of Tarantino, it is actually a pretty decent American film. The screenplay is great, and the same goes for the all-star cast, with Walton Goggins, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell especially standing out. The music is amazing (Ennio Morricone already won the Golden Globe and the Critics’ Choice Award for the best original score, with a pending Academy Award nomination), as is the cinematography (also Academy Award-nominated). The film really stands out among the 2015 American film creations, and not only due to the fact that it crosses several lines no other film productions dared to cross.
But on a Tarantino scale of one to Pulp Fiction (1994), The Hateful Eight perhaps wins only over Deathproof (2007). While many of the themes that are tackled – especially the racial tension – actually mirror the current issues of American society and are as such truly current, the point of delivery somehow falls short, which also goes for Tarantino’s usual strong-point: dialogues. While there are glimpses of brilliance, none of the dialogues are on their usual memorable level. Even though he pushes at the audience’s boundaries, especially with Major’s (Samuel L. Jackson) vengeance tale, the shocking factor doesn’t quite bring the message home. So we can say that there are two major issues: going too far over the edge while playing on the audience’s assumed angst and fears to prove a point, and then actually showing some of the political views in a too deliberate and straightforward manner, which leads to an instant impact loss. The two extremes created a rift, and the classic raw feel of Tarantino fell through it.
So the film’s main issue is, simply put, a lack of impact, which is otherwise a trademark of almost all Tarantino films. That being said, whether you are a Tarantino fan or not, The Hateful Eight is still a film well worth watching. It may be a bad ‘Tarantino’, but it is still a solid American film.
Written by Sanja Struna
All photos © 2015 The Weinstein Co.