12 January 2016

The Hateful Eight review

Quentin Tarantino's eighth film may also be his most aptly titled - the characters that we follow throughout The Hateful Eight are, as the name of the film would suggest, truly hateful people. Within the context of the film itself we can find heroes to support and villains to hate (although which category each character falls into changes throughout), but outside of that particular cabin at that particular time no such distinction exists. It's a very odd feeling to root for a character that you know full well would deserve to die in almost any other situation they could find themselves in - but that's exactly what The Hateful Eight manages to do.

Set just after the end of the American Civil War, The Hateful Eight follows bounty hunter John "The Hangman" Ruth as he transports outlaw Daisy Domergue to the town of Red Rock in order for her to be hung. After picking up a couple of passengers on the way to Red Rock, the occupants of the stagecoach soon find themselves being forced to seek refuge from a fast-approaching blizzard in Minnie's Haberdashery, a small shack containing the rest of the titular eight.

In many ways reminiscent of the 'bottle episode'-esque Reservoir Dogs, The Hateful Eight may actually be Tarantino's most well written film to date, returning to the smaller scale that defined his early films and as such allowing him to focus on that which he has always done best - dialogue and characters. We spend the entire first act just getting to know the first four of the hateful eight as they journey along the slow mountain trail to Red Rock, but Tarantino's much celebrated ability to write supremely engaging conversations make this part of the film feel as if it passes in just minutes. By the time we reach Minnie's Haberdashery (the location that the rest of the film will take place in), we understand completely who these people are, what they mean to one another and most importantly, how they see themselves as part of the world that they live in - all things which will go on to inform their actions later on, once they have met the rest of the eight inside the Haberdashery.

From that point on The Hateful Eight is nothing more than a stirring pot, confining these people to one very small place and showing us how tensions slowly mount as they are forced to interact. The character that you are rooting for will change multiple times here, your favourite suddenly revealing themselves as the worst of the bunch, forcing you to switch your allegiance just in time for your new favourite to also reveal that they are nothing more than a despicable human being. It's a cycle of one-upmanship in mean bastardry that doesn't really end until we begin to enter the inevitable finale, at which point The Hateful Eight goes about paying off the last couple of hours of set up in a hugely entertaining way, albeit one that feels somewhat traditional for a film that is otherwise exceptionally original, and not just in the characters.

For maybe the first time, it really feels like Tarantino has something to say with The Hateful Eight. Although his previous films have tackled historical injustices, here we see a film that despite the period setting attempts to take a look at injustice in the modern day. I'm still digesting The Hateful Eight in many ways, but his involvement in the #BlackLivesMatter movement has certainly informed at least parts of the movie, in particular those parts dealing with the nature of justice both then and now. As one character says, "justice delivered without dispassion is always in danger of not being justice", and the delight that characters operating on the side of the law within The Hateful Eight take in delivering that justice speaks volumes about what Tarantino (quite understandably) thinks about modern day police forces, particularly those in the USA. I don't think it would be fair to say that it's his first film with real substance, but it's certainly his film with the most substance, and it will be interesting to see if any films he makes made from now on contain similar commentaries on modern issues.

Around that (really quite subtle for the most part) commentary, everything else is just as great as it always is in a Tarantino film. On top of the aforementioned superb writing, The Hateful Eight is full of some truly great performances, to the point where it is nearly impossible to single out anyone member of the cast as the highlight. Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins and Jennifer Jason Leigh are all simply fantastic in their roles, but I will make special mention of Tim Roth, who plays British hangman Oswaldo Mobray with all the enthusiasm he could muster. He doesn't have quite as much to do as the other performers I have mentioned above, but he steals the screen whenever he is on it and it's so good to see him back in a Tarantino film for the first time in over 20 years.

Additionally, it's worth talking about just how good The Hateful Eight actually looks, and not just in the pulpy, vivid, somewhat heightened sense that mark Tarantino films as Tarantino films. The set design is incredible, as is the use of the Ultra Panavision 70 format, the two of them working together in order to make Minnie's Haberdashery feel like not just a real place but one in which you are actually standing. There has been talk recently of Tarantino turning The Hateful Eight into a stage play of some sort, and it's an idea I am totally on board with - the film already feels as if it is one for much of its running time thanks to the consistent location in which it is set, and I'd jump at the chance to see it in a different format, one that might actually enhance an already spectacular experience.

I enjoyed pretty much every second of The Hateful Eight, a film that delights in making the audience laugh at truly terrible things and root for truly evil characters. I've been a fan of Tarantino since I first started paying attention to films, and once again he's earned that with a movie that managed to live up to even my giddy expectations - it's bold and fun and captivating and so unmistakably Tarantino in nature, and in truth it will almost certainly end up being one of the best films released in 2016. Is it Tarantino's best film? Only time will tell with a director whose filmography is this varied and consistently great - but I certainly left the cinema feeling like it might be.

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