'The Hateful Eight' review: Excessive, even by Tarantino standards
While the "The Hateful Eight" (opening in select cities Dec. 25) is a worthy entry into the Quentin Tarantino library, it retreads territory Tarantino has already explored -- in terms of tone, style and even premise.
In short: As a Wyoming blizzard bears down on the post-Civil War frontier, eight strangers find shelter together in a general store. A bounty hunter suspects one of the strangers is secretly trying to free his prisoner, an outlaw meant to hang for her crimes. Stars Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins and Bruce Dern. (Watch the trailer)
First, what "Hateful Eight" does right -- it clearly establishes a lingering mistrust between all eight strangers. The first act effectively sets the stage: eight characters (who have no reason to trust one another) are trapped in relatively small building for several days. Just to make it more "Tarantino-esque," the film adds a layer of Post-Civil War tension that further divides the group -- as some are former Confederate and Union soldiers. And in the middle of it all is the huge bounty on the outlaw's head -- a bounty anyone else might want to take for themselves.
"Hateful" combines the filmmaker's trademark character interplay, stylized violence and extreme character tension. This is a dense, dialogue-heavy script that - for the most part - doesn't have too much fat on it. Every line either ratchets up the tension or develops character motivation. Russell and Jackson are the most visible stars of the movie, but it's Jason Leigh and Goggins whose characters truly drive the story. Coggins claims he is lawman with deep roots in the rebel cause -- effectively making him the wild card of the movie. Jason Leigh's outlaw is the standout character of "Hateful" -- she is centerpiece of the whole film and Jason Leigh creates a crude and darkly funny outlaw who is both captive and antagonist.
Unfortunately, Tarantino doesn't bring anything new to the table with "Hateful Eight." The general premise is some combination of "Reservoir Dogs" (characters bottled up in a confined space) and the escalating tension of the best scene in "Inglourious Basterds": the tavern scene. While there is some charm in seeing vibrant characters trade Tarantino barbs -- which is worth the price of admission itself. However, "Hateful" co-opts enough elements from his previous works so this latest film doesn't feel fresh. There's a sense that Tarantino isn't showing us anything that we haven't seen before - specifically from other Tarantino movies. "Hateful" is a repackaging of other signature Tarantino elements.
One of these elements: the n-bomb. "Django Unchained" is the unofficial reigning titleholder for most n-bombs dropped in a film and "Hateful" seems intent on taking the title. And there's simply no need for the sheer number of n-bombs in "Hateful." The n-bomb is used with such frequency that - sadly - it eventually loses its shock value by the third act and just feels like lazy screenplay filler. Even for a film set just after the Civil War and featuring characters who fought on both sides of the war, there's simply no need for the sheer volume of n-bombs that carpet bomb this script.
Another Tarantino staple is violence -- and the cartoonish violence here is excessive, even for a Tarantino movie. The "I shot Melvin in the face" moment in "Pulp Fiction" worked because it was shocking and that movie carefully doled out its violence. "Hateful" makes no such effort. What's more unsettling, however, isn't the amount or degree of violence -- it's the predictability of said gratuitous violence. At one point in the movie, I was able to not only predict which character would die next -- but also able to foresee the intensely graphic way that character would die. Violence that is mundane and predictable is lazy violence.
The big moment that comes right before the intermission typifies the pure excess of "Hateful." It's a long and winding monologue, with one character taunting another. And the story quickly devolves into a pointlessly graphic act of sexual violence. Even Tarantino's writing, while effective in taunting, is ridiculously over-the-top. The story has one point - to get another character's skin - and just goes on and on and on. At a certain point, such graphic material - designed only to get a reaction out of another character and the audience - is pointless and just flat out needless.
Lastly, audiences should enjoy the 70mm "Roadshow" version of "Hateful" if at all possible. The "Roadshow" version is slightly longer than the wide release version - the longer version begins with an instrumental overture and includes an intermission. This intermission is perfectly timed (as it comes immediately after a major plot point) and allows the audience a moment to decompress and regroup. "Hateful" is rich with complex character interactions - so the intermission allows the audience before the action-packed third act begins.
Final verdict: While entertaining, "Hateful Eight" is dangerously close to being a parody of Tarantino.
"The Hateful Eight" opens in select cities Dec. 25 and opens in theaters nationwide Dec. 31. The general release version has a running time of 167 minutes and the Roadshow Event version has a running time of 187 minutes. This film is rated R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.