Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Composer: Ennio Morricone
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern
The release of new films is always a great excuse to go back and watch great films from filmmakers you love. This week brings us the release of Tarantino’s 9th film and for it, I decided to go back and rewatch a few of his older movies. It’s just my luck that his previous film had just been re-released on Netflix as an exclusive extended cut back in April.
Violence/Scary Images: Significant gore throughout, characters are shot, significant blood and gore shown, characters die in painful, embarrassing ways. One character is hanged.
Language/Crude Humor: Severe language throughout. Repeated use of racial slurs, swear words like f***, s***, and g**d***.
Sexual Content: A character forcibly rapes another character on screen and describes it in narration, some male nudity is seen from a distance.
Other Negative Content: Extreme content, gore, casual bigotry, and references to sexual violence depicted.
Positive Content: Anti-racist themes and themes of individual redemption and justice.
On the cusp of Quintin Tarantino’s 9th film Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, Netflix dropped a surprise release this spring that fans of the distinguished post-modernist director probably wouldn’t have expected. A new extended cut of his previous effort The Hateful Eight was released on the streaming service exclusively. What makes this release interesting is that it comes at the behest of Tarantino’s disdain for digital cinema. Tarantino is an analog filmmaker who prefers shooting in film, goes out of his way to film in 35mm and 70mm, and releases them at theaters around the country that can still project filmstock. At his own personally owned cinema in California, he only projects movies using film. A digital-only release of one of his films, even if it’s only an extended cut, is a big deal.
The release format is interesting. Presented in the form of a four-episode miniseries, the movie added roughly 50 minutes of additional footage (including the runtime of the credits for each episode) to the runtime to fill out the needed length. It’s not necessarily a proper director’s cut as much as it is an experiment in playing with filmmaking formats. So what does adding nearly an hour of extra runtime to The Hateful Eight add to the experience? One could fear adding an extra hour of footage merely means they added more cutaways to scenic vistas and scenes of superfluous dialog than anything meaningful to Tarantino’s vision.
Truthfully, at times it barely feels like that’s the case. There are a handful of deleted scenes added to the runtime in addition to credits sequences for every one of the four parts. There are some additional establishing shots at the beginning of the first episode to set the tone for the bleak mountain wasteland before we see the famous opening shot of the cross buried in snow. The runtime expansion barely reflects on the pace of the film if you’re already familiar with it. It’s still the brutally slow-paced, yet engaging, schlock it was in the theatrical cut, albeit with some of the scenes added to the roadshow version of the film when that was released in 70mm.
Functionally, The Hateful Eight has always been an odd film in Tarantino’s filmography. A spiritual successor and direct followup to one of his most successful films Django Unchained, the film in question came across to his fanbase as a relative drop in quality. Despite being filmed on 70mm film and set in the Rocky Mountains, the movie has a claustrophobic feel that makes the script read like more of a stage play than a movie script. The script is also a great deal more vague thematically than it’s predecessors. There’s a case to be made the movie is second only to Death Proof for the status of the weakest films of his career. At the same time, though, Tarantino movies are always Tarantino movies. Even an off day from a great filmmaker reflects the soul of a great artist. As always, the dialog sizzles with Tarantino’s characteristic cruelty, casual ironic bigotry, and satire. This is a movie so confident in itself that Tarantino himself even jumps in for a few scenes to narrate the events. That’s a touch only a masterful storyteller (if one with a profound ego) could pull off.
Cramped as the movie is, part of that is clearly intentional. This is supposed to be a contained thriller wherein racist and criminal characters are trapped with each other in a cabin surrounded by a blizzard as they slowly unravel and lash out at each other. Each character is insanely well defined. The movie’s slow pacing gives us time to meet each one of them and watch how they bounce off one another ideologically. This is a movie with bounty hunters, ex-Union and Confederate soldiers, and criminals living in close proximity to one another, and they’ve all got it out for each other. The movie is as much a game of cool-headedness as it is of survival and wit. Far too few films have the casual talent to rely on such strengths anymore. That it feels unwieldy and slightly undercooked is forgivable.
One example of the film’s seemingly haphazardly conception people have criticized is the movie’s use of 70mm as wasteful given it’s filmed almost entirely on an indoor soundstage set inside the cabin. Truthfully, it’s hard to lie and say the criticism is wrong. 70mm film has always been a large scale format usually reserved for massive scale productions. Yet it’s a criticism Tarantino responded to vehemently, claiming 70mm’s extreme detail offers a unique ability to capture factual expression and detail in an intimate space as well as it does epic landscapes much as older directors like David Lean did with 70mm classics like Lawrence of Arabia. As strange as the decision is, there’s a very real attempt to push film technology forward by using older tools in this movie that’s commendable, if unconventional.
This extends too to the characterization. It’s clear there’s an immense amount of intent and subtext in the film’s portrayal of post-war racism and lawlessness, but at times the actual way the film plays out feels arbitrary. Each character draws upon broad late 19th-century archetypes that suggest each character is intended to be somewhat of a stand-in for some aspect of American life, but their arcs or lack thereof feel rough and tend to end abruptly. I’m not sure what role “Senior Bob the Mexican” serves to play in this equation beyond being the one person everyone in the room hates arbitrarily.
Daisy Domergue’s central role in the film as the most vital character to the actual plot feels tangential to the themes about racism and uneasy coexistence. If anything, it just serves to drive the arcs of more interesting characters like Mannix who ends up having the most profound change of character of anyone in the entire film despite being a confederate and profoundly racist sheriff. Others like General Smithers only make sense once the reveal of what happened in the cabin prior to Ruth’s arrival comes into focus and the knowledge of what he was up to prior to the story posthumously colors his lack of action.
John Ruth, the movie’s closest approximation of an uncompromised good guy, ends up providing much of the film’s moral core as the bounty hunter that refuses to take lives. This is all played in contrast with his penchant for beating women, though, so whatever degree this is true is relative to the rest of the people in the cabin. It’s never stated directly in the text of the film, but given his lauded status in the film as a great bounty hunter, the image it suggests is one that he’s meant to be the example of proper law set against the lawless old west. He doesn’t want to be judge, jury, and executioner, so he captures bounties alive and delivers them to justice on principal. This proves to be a dangerous pasttime as it puts his own life in danger throughout the film and gets him injured and eventually killed.
From then on out, the story shifts into overdrive as the characters banter non-stop at gunpoint and desperately try to work out the mystery of what happened at the cabin and who is loyal to who. The actual reveal of the mystery, done in the form of a flashback, comes in the film’s final hour and is a gut punch that really highlights the film’s subtext of racial violence. It colors the rest of the film to know those events preceded the story prior to Ruth arriving at the cabin.
The movie’s relentless parade of one-off characters, brutal abrupt deaths, and at times thematically confusing characters is a good summary of the movie’s faults. The Hateful Eight is a moving brimming with great scenes, complex themes about racism, and top-notch filmmaking, but it occasionally feels aimless when you look at the fringes of the plot. Entire characters exist to sit as placeholders for the movie’s requisite eight, and the movie’s focus on the Dommergue gang muddles its more interesting themes about race relationships. It might’ve helped with the themes if the Dommergue gang were more overtly racist, but Daisy and the other gang members don’t turn out to be more bigoted than anyone else in the room. If they’d been Klan members, maybe it would’ve highlighted the movie’s foundational ideas more, but instead, Daisy ends up being yet another casual racist in a room full of casual racists.
I don’t want to be too hard on Tarantino, of course. The Hateful Eight was one of 2015’s most memorable films in a year full of memorable films (Mad Mad Fury Road, Bridge of Spies, The Martian, Sicario, Creed, Ex Machina, Spotlight, The Force Awakens, etc.). While muddled, the movie’s ultimate conclusion on the nature of bigotry is powerful and deeply uncomfortable. As I said once in a previous review I did of the film on my old blog years ago, the movie is a deeply cynical one that robs you of the catharsis Tarantino’s other movies about bigotry grant you. It’s not Django Unchained or Inglorious Bastards that end with characters going out in a blaze of glory. This is a movie designed to punish its viewers with its bleak tone, brutal gore, harsh language, and final conclusion on race. The movie is designed to punish you a little and it thinks you deserve it.
It’s a piece of vital contemporary pop-art every fan of films should seek out for its novelty alone. That it’s also a lessor film of a great modern filmmaker is another reason you ought to seek it out if you love the art form. The extended cut feels more like an excuse to revisit the film prior to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood more than a legitimate expansion of the ideas of the original film. Considering the film’s theatrical cut is also already available on Netflix, it’s hardly something vital to the filmography of Tarantino beyond being a strange experiment in film distribution. If you’re looking for excuses to rewatch Tarantino films this week, it’s as good an excuse as any.
+ Great dialog + Great performances + Complex themes about race and justice
- Slow pacing - Muddled themes - Some one-note characters
The Bottom Line
The Hateful Eight is a must-see film for fans of Tarantino and cinema, but it's also a movie not for the faint of heart. It's brutal, dark, violent, and cruel to its audience, and may not be appropriate for some audiences.