First, I will admit that I probably wouldn’t have given the film a chance if it weren’t for Tarantino’s track record. After his most recent hits Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained, I was pretty excited for The Hateful Eight and was more than willing to invest a good three hours to see what masterpiece he had created this time around. The synopsis, “In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters,” in pretty much any other scenario wouldn’t be enough to intrigue me. Thus, it was all because of Tarantino’s established presence in Hollywood that I wanted to check it out.
Unfortunately, his very same name and reputation within the entertainment industry was also a big curse. I went into the movie with high expectations. I was expecting Quentin’s witty humor, over-the-top violence and out-there but somehow relevant story. And while there was a minimal amount of some of these elements, it was mostly disappointing and failed to perform at the level that has become expected from the well-known writer and director.
The film is about a bounty hunter named John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), who is on his way to the town of Red Rock in post-Civil War Wyoming. John is traveling with a notorious fugitive prisoner he has captured, who is worth a good sum of money if turned into law enforcement, dead or alive. Unfortunately, John, his stagecoach driver and the prisoner are hit by a severe blizzard and eventually end up taking on two more travelers who manage to talk their way out into getting a ride from John.
Shortly after, the crew stops at a stagecoach stopover, where they decide to take refuge until the blizzard passes through. When they arrive, they encounter four other strangers who seem to be also waiting out the storm at the stopover. However, it eventually becomes apparent that these strangers aren’t who they claim to be and present some obstacles in John and his crew’s plan to get to Red Rock.
So, what did the movie have working for it? Well, other than having Quentin as the mastermind behind it, the movie also starred a bunch of reputable actors. Some of the most notable cast members include Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks and Channing Tatum; many of which have starred in previous Tarantino films such as Django, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. In addition, it had plenty of hype and publicity, as well as some pretty high praise from early critics.
So, why did the movie fail?
Well, let me start by saying that you need a hell of a lot of patience to get through this movie. It is heavy with dialogue, which is further emphasized by the fact that it mainly takes place in one set (the stopover cabin). Unfortunately, unlike some of Tarantino’s previous films, the dialogue really isn’t anything incredible – both in terms of creativity and humor. This is especially where the curse of his established name comes into play, as many of the tricks and gimmicks he incorporates in TH8 are simply reused elements of his past films – including chapter titles, overuse of the n-word and some gory deaths. While some of these could be intriguing when put to use by new filmmakers, it is what we have come to expect from Quentin. And since he did not incorporate them with some kind of new spin, they lost their initial novelty and impact.
Secondly, even when the movie finally got to the more gritty action towards the end, the characters weren’t developed enough for me to really care. With Django, I found myself rooting for the lead character and anxiously waiting for his eventual massacre. In contrast, The Hateful Eight was obviously trying to tell a who-dun-it/Agatha Christie-esque story, but by the end, the characters were so underdeveloped that I honestly didn’t care who did it or if the right person got the justice they deserved. Furthermore, this lack of connection with the characters didn’t help with trying to keep the plot interesting and somewhat surprising. The fact that I didn’t care what character(s) were behind the mischief hindered me from placing my bets on anyone and thus denying the film the ability to surprise me with its concluding reveal.
One thing that the film did have going for it was that I was relatively attentive throughout, as I was anticipating the big plot twist that would make up for all the slow-paced scenes in the beginning (which eventually melted into the middle and pretty much right up until the end). However, as chapter after chapter went by I eventually realized that perhaps even Quentin could fail me.
Quentin claims that he only plans to make 10 movies, and The Hateful Eight happens to be his 8th. So I am hoping he is able to get outside of the crazy world inside of his head and come back with a 9th movie that actually shares this world with the viewers. It seems like he was so stuck in Quentinland that he was creating this latest movie with rose-colored glasses, failing to see the lacking qualities in the characters, set and overall story. Hopefully, he is able to regain his ability to bring audiences into his movies’ crazy, messed up and incredibly entertaining worlds – as this truly is the vehicle that has driven his previous works to such levels of success.