I’m not here to defend this movie from its critics. The movie is what it is, and despite plenty of people NOT liking something, I have never let that stop me from liking a movie, although that doesn’t mean my opinion can’t/ wont change later.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am a Quentin Tarantino fan. I’ve been a fan since I was devastated by a late night showing of Reservoir Dogs, so I’m viewing Hateful Eight through the lens of “fan girl”. Its not that I feel his films are perfect and he can do no wrong. I’m perfectly willing to debate the merits and demerits of Jackie Brown, a movie I can’t stand. I do feel the good points of his movies often outweigh or outnumber the bad and I don’t want to be one of those people who don’t like a movie because I got hung up on some detail.
And lets get this part out of the way now. I don’t have a problem with Tarantino’s use of the N* word in his movies, because I don’t feel as if the use of the word is entirely gratuitous in his films, as has been argued. Let’s just agree to disagree on that. I don’t think the characters are stand ins for what Tarantino actually thinks or feels about black people, as has been argued, too. I’m not surprised, or put out, by some character’s use of the word. Tarantino writes about just the kind of low-life people that would sprinkle that word into all of their conversations, and it is difficult to get any lower than the characters in Hateful Eight. Beatrix Kiddo was an assassin, the guys from Reservoir dogs were professional thieves, and nearly the entire cast of Pulp Fiction is made up of various sorts of criminals. Everyone’s degree of badness is relative.
I don’t think you’re really meant to like any of the characters in his films. They’re all inherently unlikeable people, and by that I mean, not the kind of people you would ever want as real life friends, unless you were also a criminal or low-life, and if so, you’d certainly not object to the use of the N* word in anyone’s vocabulary. As a general rule, unlikeable characters do and say unlikeable things.
As an artist myself, I can and do make the distinction between the artist and the art (until I feel like not doing that). Do I wish he would use the word a little less? Sure. Mostly because people find that word too distracting and can’t get past it to the meat of his films. I try not to let it distract me. I think this is some of the best writing that Tarantino has done in years and Django Unchained had some seriously fine writing.
Tarantino is known for dealing in tropes, homages, and stereotypes. Its not until you reach the end of his films, that you realize just how many of these he has turned on their heads, throughout the course of the movie. Essentially The Hateful Eight is a filmic retread of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”, set in the Old West, with more gunfire. Keep in mind this also the basic plot of every horror movie with victims in an isolated location, and the main plot point of Joss Whedon’s 2011 Cabin in the Woods. So this is a narrative that gets a lot of mileage in movies, and Tarantino, not being anybody’s fool, has decided to try his hand at it.
Some of my favorite icons are in attendance. There’s Kurt Russell as a bounty hunter named John Ruth. He’s just captured the sister of Jordan Domergue, named Daisy, played with spunk by Jenifer Jason Leigh, and is taking her into town to collect the bounty and see her hanged. I’ve never seen Leigh behave quite the way she does in this movie. It turns out that I must be some sort of fan of hers as I’ve inadvertently seen a lot of her films. Or she just happens to be in a lot of movies I like.
The two of them are accosted on a snowy trail by one of my favorite actors, fresh off the TV show Justified, Walton Goggins, who embodies the trope of the “New Sheriff in Town”, and Major Marquise Warren, played by Samuel L. Jackson. He’s an ex-soldier, carrying three bounties to the town of Red Rock. Of the four, you’d think Goggins’ character, Chris Mannix, would be the most likeable because he’s the good guy, but you’d be wrong. They are all headed to Minnie’s Haberdashery, as that’s the only pit stop available, to wait out a coming blizzard.
Minnie’s already has several inhabitants. Bob, a Mexican man who says Minnie left him in charge while she went out of town for a while,Oswaldo Mobray played by another favorite of mine, Tim Roth, Joe Gage is played by Michael Madsen. He’s a staple of any Tarantino movie. Bruce Dern rounds out the cast as Colonel Sanford Smithers, an ex-Confederate soldier. You may as well understand that almost none of these characters are truly who they say they are, or are present for the purposes which they state. Later ,there’s an unexpected cameo by Daisy’s brother, and I won’t tell you who plays him, but a quick Google search will easily get you his name.
It really is like Ten Little Indians in the Old West, only complicated by the characters suspicions, alliances and enmities. Ruth is intent on protecting Daisy from anyone who might steal her from him and take his bounty, but manages to bond with Warren, who claims to have received personal letters from Abraham Lincoln.Warren and Mannix, having been on opposite sides of the war, almost immediately hate each other, but manage to bond later, after a contentious, but philosophical, conversation about their roles in the war.
The Civil War and Warren’s letter feature prominently in the plot and most of the dialogue, but don’t actually affect the outcome, as alliances and enmities are switched, and then as the bodies begin to fall, are switched again.
Samuel L Jackson knocks it out of the park in this movie, though. He really should have been given some awards. There’s one moment where he gives a devastatingly emotional speech to Smithers, about how he assassinated the man’s son, which prompts Smithers to kill Warren, thereby setting off the bloodbath to follow.
Its a hideously gorgeous speech, on par with The Sicilian Speech in True Romance, between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper (and if you haven’t seen that movie you need to see it just for that speech.) Tarantino wrote the dialogue for True Romance too, so this can be thought of as an homage to his own writing, as both serve the same purpose, to prompt the killing of its speaker, only in Warren’s case he survives. Like I said, none of these characters are likable and Jackson’s character becomes a lot less likable after his story, but that shouldn’t stop you from liking the movie.
I can’t go too much further into the plot but surely you know what to expect from a Tarantino movie. There will be violence. There will be blood. There will be lots of cussin’. There’s also some betrayals, poisonings, and Daisy has a surprisingly good singing voice.
I can’t say I “enjoyed” this, as that’s a very strong word. The movie is just slightly to the left of my comfort zone to say it was enjoyable. I didn’t enjoy it as much a Django Unchained, for example, which spoke to me on a visceral level. This film didn’t have that level of resonance, but it does have interesting philosophical discussions about the Civil War and the role played by the average Confederate soldier. There are some times when a writer’s thinking on an issue becomes clear, based on things characters say beyond the usual expletives. Its obvious that Tarantino’s big brain has been thinking deeply about race, lately. He doesn’t offer answers or conclusions, though. These are just thoughts he wants to put out into the world, I guess. It got me to think about that war in a different way than I had before, so his efforts were successful, even if I disagreed.
Some people are saying that making these movies means he’s trying to cozy up to Black people, or get us to like him, or maybe trying to atone for using the N* word so often, but I don’t think its that dramatic. I think Tarantino genuinely likes black culture, is interested in these topics, and now is his chance to say something about something, which is fine with me, as he does his best writing when he’s pondering the nature of things. He’s older now and starting to think about things more and this is to the benefit of his writing skills and his fans.
Tarantino should round out his Western duo of movies, Django Unchained, and Hateful 8 , with a third movie. I’d love it if he did for Native Americans what he did for Jewish people in Inglorious Basterds. Why leave out any group of people, when he can be an equal opportunity offender, in that regard? If Tarantino does another Western, what do you think it should be? A Spaghetti Western, like Clint Eastwood? A remake of The Magnificent Seven? Give your suggestions in the comments.