By Darin Skaggs
Throughout Quentin Tarantino’s career, with a huge focus on the most recent two Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, there has been a huge focus on giving off a big sense of fun, an argument for why we go to the movies. It is no secret the man has a passion for cinema and puts homages in his films that are sometimes just shot for shot, yet it always feels like his own unique work. With that said, hidden under all the violent gags and witty dialogue are dark themes and to-hard-to-talk-about topics. In his three hour, stage play like Western epic, The Hateful Eight, Tarantino pulls back on some of the fun, there is still a fair share of it like with the recurring joke with a broken door and a crazy story told by a cackling Samuel L. Jackson and replaces it with real, furious and realized anger about America and humanity in general.
The Hateful Eight is a movie about eight-plus characters that are over booked in a small cozy cabin while a dangerous blizzard roars outside. Tensions are high from the get go and after about half way through the three hour runtime we find that is all for good reason. The first third of the film includes a station wagon with John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) with a most dangerous prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and willing stage driver O.B. Jackson (James Parks). They run into the lone, not counting the dead bodies he is taking to the authorities for reward, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). He talks them into joining him on a count of the freezing cold blizzard about to come. After a bit of nasty Tarantino quips to-be Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins) joins the group and more fun, mean dialogue is thrown around until they all find themselves at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a rundown shack big enough to store about a third of who is attending. That includes Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a man in the corner writing his life story, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) the hangman for the town our group is heading to, General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) a cranky old army General who was for the Yankee’s in the civil war and Bob (Demian Bichir) a Mexican man who claims he is taking over for the suspiciously absent Minnie. After a bunch of words thrown around and tensions rise, the big moment happens and the second half of the film begins which acts as an answer to all the questions brought up in the first half.
At some points the violence is funny, which is a Tarantino staple, but so much of the violence is mean and seems unnecessary. Unlike the celebrated massacres in Inglorious and Django, and even Kill Bill at times, these murders are questionable. There is no clear cut motivation for them, not like The Bride getting her revenge or Eli Roth destroying Hitler’s face because we all hate the Holocaust, it is our people killing each other. The civil war is spoken of throughout the film and is a clear influence to get across that Tarantino is angry about where America is right now, violence wise and equality wise. Near the end the kills become harder and harder to watch. If you were expecting a fun “let’s get ‘em” type movie there is no longer one to be had with this director. He’s reminded us what we as humanity has gotten wrong in the past, but now he needs us to know what we are getting wrong now.
All those messages would be harder to get through to people if the movie didn’t look good. It is not like all his films haven’t look good in the past, but here cinematographer Robert Richardson captures some absolutely beautiful snowy landscapes that are seen throughout the first third. When we get to the shack, the production design is ugly, not ugly in a way that seems like any of the crew didn’t try, but one that looks like it did back then and matches the extreme ugliness of the characters. All of the actors are fantastic, everyone chewing on the scenery, but never taking away from one another’s moments. If you have picked a favorite performance, you are probably lying to yourself because everyone here is doing some of their best work. Everything does come together to make a brilliant, sometimes hard to watch commentary on the state of America.