Wednesday, January 6, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Like all of Tarantino's works, The Hateful Eight is a slow-burning, talky (boy is it ever), big budget, elevated grindhouse movie, filled with the director's trademark "protracted takes" and punctuated here and there with short bursts of over the top, violent action. It's also a well-acted character study that draws you in and demands your attention, making you wonder just what'll happen next.

The majority of the film takes place in a single room, giving it the feeling of a stage play. It's an ensemble piece, and the actors, most of whom are alumni of the director's previous films, all bring their A games and play well off one another. 

If you're a fan of Tarantino's works you'll find a lot to enjoy here. If you're not enthralled by his films, then this one's not likely to change your mind.

Tarantino first announced he was working on the film in November 2013, but when the script was leaked online, he pitched a well-deserved fit and cancelled the project. He then briefly considered publishing it as a novel instead. In April 2015, Tarantino directed a live reading of the original script in L.A., which reignited his passion for the project. He decided to film it after all, with a newly rewritten ending.

Tarantino persuaded famed film composer Ennio Morricone to score the film. Morricone has been around forever, and has written scores for over five hundred movies and TV shows! He's most famous though for scoring numerous Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s and 1970s, specifically those of Sergio Leone. 

Tarantino used bits of Morricone's previous scores in Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. This resulted in tension between the two, as Morricone apparently wasn't happy with the way his music was used. Apparently they must have kissed and made up, and Morricone agreed to write the music for the film after all. This was his first original movie score in forty years.

There are two versions of the film. The 70mm "roadshow" version clocks in at a butt-numbing 187 minutes, while the general release version (which is the one I saw) is 167 minutes (or two hours and forty seven minutes!). Despite this epic run time, the film flew right by and never seemed overly long or bloated.

I've read some complaints that the film is boring. It's anything but! I think audiences who are bored by it just aren't used to watching a film that demands their full attention. It's definitely not a "text while you watch it" film.

In an interview Tarantino said the film was influenced by the 1982 version of The Thing. That movie also starred Kurt Russell, and like The Hateful Eight, featured characters trying to survive an unknown assailant while trapped in an icy outpost.

It's also very reminiscent of The Twilight Zone episode Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up? In that episode, two state troopers see a UFO land in a blizzard. They follow a set of footprints to an isolated diner, where they find a group of stranded bus passengers. The troopers then have to figure out which of the diner patrons is a potentially dangerous alien.

Like Tarantino's previous film Django Unchained, this one makes copious use of the word "nigger." I wouldn't be surprised if the various characters say the word at least a hundred times. I wasn't offended by this, as that's no doubt just the way people spoke during the 1870s. That said, Tarantino does seem a bit too gleeful and enthusiastic with his use of the word. At times he seems less like he's using the word for authenticity, and more like a kid who's going hog wild after learning how to cuss.


The Plot:
The film is divided into five "chapters," because Tarantino loves pretension.

Chapter One: Last Stage To Red Rock
Sometime after the Civil War, bounty hunter John "The Hangman" Ruth (played by Kurt Russell) is transporting murderer Daisy Domergue (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the town of Red Rock, Wyoming for execution. Their private stagecoach, which is driven by a man named O.B. Jackson, is stopped by another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (played by Samuel L. Jackson), who lost his horse while transporting the corpses of several outlaws. After a tense meeting, Ruth agrees to let Warren ride along as far as Minnie's Haberdashery, where the travelers will have to stop to wait out an approaching blizzard.

Ruth is acquainted with Warren, and asks to see the letter he claims he personally received from Abraham Lincoln.

Chapter Two: Son Of A Gun
A few miles later the stagecoach is stopped again, this time by Chris Mannix (played by Walton Goggins), a former Confederate soldier. Mannix claims he's also trying to get to Red Rock, as he's the town's new sheriff. Ruth and Warren are suspicious of Mannix, but let him come along when he reminds them that he's the one who'll be paying their bounties. Warren and Mannix, who were on opposite sides during the War, argue about their records.

Chapter Three: Minnie's Haberdashery
The group arrives at the Haberdashery just as the blizzard hits. Unfortunately, Minnie is nowhere to be seen. A man named Mexican Bob says Minnie's off visiting her mother, and left him to look after the place. Inside are Oswaldo Mobray (played by Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock, Joe Gage (played by Michael Madsen), a cowboy on his way to visit his mother and Sandord Smithers (played by Bruce Dern), a former Confederate General who's searching for his missing son.

Ruth is suspicious of the various lodgers and demands they all hand over their guns, leaving just him and Warren armed. Warren is suspicious about Minnie's disappearance and the various travelers' stories. 

During dinner, Mannix accuses Warren of forging his Lincoln letter, and the two almost come to blows. Warren then taunts Smithers, who executed black Union soldiers during the War. He places a loaded gun next to the General and tells a tale of how he killed his son. Smithers is incensed and reaches for the gun. Warren kills him, claiming self defense.

Chapter Four: Domergue's Got A Secret
While everyone's distracted by the Smithers/Warren confrontation, Domergue sees someone (that the audience can't) poison the coffee. Ruth and O.B. drink it, and a few minutes later begin vomiting blood. Ruth realizes what happened and tries to shoot Domergue, but she kills him with his own gun. Warren then disarms Domergue, and lines up everyone against the wall, holding them at gunpoint. The only one he trusts is Mannix, because he almost drank the poisoned coffee himself.

Like a detective in a drawing room mystery, Warren then begins deducing who's really who. He call Bob a liar, because Minnie hated Mexicans and would never have hired one, and shoots him in cold blood. Gage admits he poisoned the coffee. Just then someone hiding under the floorboards shoots at Warren, hitting him in the crotch. Mobray shoots Mannix, who shoots him back.

Chapter Five: The Four Passengers
We then flash back to earlier that day, as Mexican Bob, Mobray, Gage and a fourth man named Jody arrive at the Haberdashery. They charm Minnie and the other occupants, and when their guards are down slaughter everyone but Smithers. Jody tells Smithers that he's Daisy Domergue's brother, and is there to rescue her when Ruth arrives. He says if Smithers keeps his mouth shut he'll spare him. The gang disposes of the bodies, hides weapons under the tables, and waits. As Ruth's stagecoach arrives, Jody hides in the cellar.

Final Chapter: Black Man, White Hell
Back in the present, Warren and Mannix, both severely wounded, still hold Domergue, Gage and Mobry at gunpoint. They force Jody out of the cellar and Warren blows the top of his head off. Domergue claims her brother has an army of fifteen men waiting in Red Rock who will kill Mannix and burn the town if she's killed. She says if Mannix kills Warren, she'll make sure he's spared.

Mobray and Gage pull their weapons, but are killed by both Warren and Mannix. Warren fires at Domergue, but is out of bullets. Mannix decides Domergue is lying, but passes out from blood loss before he can kill her. Domergue then crawls for Mannix's gun, but he regains consciousness at the last second and shoots, wounding her. The two men then hang her from the rafters, to honor John "The Hangman" Ruth's wishes.

As the film ends, Warren and Mannix then lay dying. Mannix asks to see Warren's Lincoln letter and reads it, saying it's a nice forgery.

• Math is hard! In the opening credits, a title card announces that this is the eighth film directed by Quentin Tarantino. It's actually the ninth

Tarantino previously directed Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. That would make The Hateful Eight his ninth film. However, Tarantino says he counts the two Kill Bill movies as a single film, which would make this the eighth. I have a feeling he's just saying that to play up the connection with the "Eight" in the title.

• Math is hard, part two! During the film I did a quick head count and realized there are actually nine main characters in the film: Major Marquis Warren, John Ruth, Daisy Domergue, Sheriff Chris Mannix, Mexican Bob, Oswaldo Mobray, Joe Gage, General Sandy Smithers and O.B. Jackson.

I guess O.B., the stagecoach driver, wasn't hateful enough to be considered part of the Eight.

• I was very surprised when I saw Bruce Dern's name in the opening credits. I could have sworn he died a few years ago. Maybe I'm thinking of David Carradine?

• Much has been made of the fact that Tarantino shot the movie on old school Ultra Panavision 70 mm film, a format typically used in big budget, widescreen epics such as Ben HurThe Greatest Story Ever Told and Battle Of The Bulge

Ironically Tarantino took this format, which is most suitable for outdoor vistas, and made a movie in which the characters spend 90% of the run time holed up inside one small room.

• According to Quentin Tarantio, The Hateful Eight takes place in the same universe as Django Unchained.

• When Jody asks Minnie to roll him a cigarette, she says she uses Red Apple tobacco. Red Apple cigarettes are a trademark of the Tarantino movie universe, and have appeared in many of his films.

The Hateful Eight is a period film, so you know what that means— anachronisms ahoy! Actually only two of them jumped out at me while watching the movie. 

At one point Warren uses the word "paranoid." That didn't sound to me like a word that would be bandied about in the Old West, and a quick google check confirms the first known use of it was in 1904. Whoops!

The term "pen pal" is also used in the film, and also set off my Spider-Sense. The first known use of that term was in 1938. Can't win 'em all, Quentin.

• Much of the violence in the film is directed toward Daisy Domergue, the only female member of the eight main characters. She has a black eye the first time we see her, and Ruth, er, ruthlessly punches, kicks and beats her whenever she gets out of line. She even gets her front teeth knocked out at one point. Amazingly, Tarantino plays this shocking violence for laughs. 

Maybe he's trying to make some point about violence against women that I'm just missing.

I'm very surprised that no women's rights groups have complained or called for a boycott of the film, especially in our current hyper-sensitive culture. 

• Tarantino has made full or cameo appearances in all his films (with the exception of Kill Bill Vol 1). He appears in voice only in The Hateful Eight, narrating a couple of the "chapters."

• This is Samuel L. Jackson's sixth collaboration with Tarantino. He was in Pulp Fiction, Jackie BrownKill Bill: Vol. 2 (cameo appearance), Inglourious Basterds (narrator) and Django Unchained.

This is Kurt Russell's second film with Tarantino. He previously appeared in Death Proof as Stuntman Mike.

• During some scenes, the cast worked on a refrigerated set in order for their breath to be visible. I'm sure it was uncomfortable, but it was definitely effective— the film looks and feels cold.

• The normal pronunciation of the name Domergue is "Dah-merg." Everyone in the film though pronounces it "Domer-goo," which I assume is the uneducated, backwoods cowboy way of saying the name.

• I'm very skeptical about the amounts of the bounties in the film. Joe Ruth says there's a $10,000 bounty on Daisy Domergue. That seems really, really high for the 1870s

I checked an online inflation calculator to see just how realistic an amount that would be. Unfortunately the calculator only went back to 1913, but even in that year, $10,000 was the equivalent of about $240,000 today. It would no doubt be even more in 1870. That's an impossibly huge amount for a small town to pay for just one person.

• Much like Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight isn't told in strict chronological order. The next to last "chapter" is a flashback to events that took place before the beginning of the film. Uh-oh. 

Many years ago a friend who worked at Blockbuster Video told me that one day a customer returned a videotape of Pulp Fiction, complaining that it was defective. The customer said, "This tape's all messed up. It jumps all around and one guy gets killed and then he's alive later on."

I fully expect the same thing to happen with this film after the eventual home video release.

The Hateful Eight is talky, violent and well acted, and more like a stage play than a film. Fans of Tarantino's style will likely enjoy it, while those looking for an action-packed, post modern Western will be disappointed. I enjoyed it, but don't feel the need to ever see it again. I give it a B+.

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