Text by – Paolo Bonfadini
Translation by – Elisa Borella
The Hateful Eight, eighth movie by Quentin Tarantino (as explained by the eloquent title), needs perhaps to be seen twice to be appreciated properly. First of all, The Hateful Eight is not a bad movie at all, as such a sharp opening sentence might have suggested, it is exactly the opposite. For this reason, it is really hard to find the right words to describe it properly, so that this review will be an analysis of its features (as much spoiler free as we can) rather than an informal commentary on it.
But let’s first put things into order.
The movie opens with a stagecoach hobbling along a snowy Wyoming, fleeing from a storm that, using the coachman’s precise words, ‘bites the ass’.
And of course it is, we are in a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Foretelling the blizzard’s rage, the coachman decides not to lead the two passengers to Red Rock where they are heading to, but to stop for the night at Minnie’s stagecoach lodge, an unspecified place, probably close to the point at which the stagecoach is in that precise moment. However, of the most importance is not the destination, but the two passengers. Inside the stagecoach, therefore, sit John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russel), a legendary but honest bounty hunter, and Daisy Domergue (Academy Awards candidate Jennifer Jason Leigh), sentenced to death for an unspecified murder and on the road to the gallows in Red Rock.
Still, not everything goes according to plans: not only the incoming tempest, but also two unexpected travelers are forced to ask John Ruth for a ride. One, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), left with no option but to walk after his horse’s death, is somehow a colleague of John Ruth, being an ex-yankee officer and bounty hunter at the end of the Civil War. From the first dialogue between them, who have met few months before thanks to a steak eaten together in Chattanooga, emerges a detail that will be recurring through the all movie: John Ruth asks Warren the permission to read again a letter send to him by Abraham Lincoln during the war, wish that will be granted in exchange for the ‘kindly’ offered lift. Also the other passenger seeking refuge from the storm, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), succeeds into winning John Ruth’s suspicion thanks to him claiming to be the new sheriff of Red Rock, the one who will actually be going to pay to the Hangman the reward dangling on his fugitive’s head.
Inside the stagecoach, in fact, takes place one of the most uplifting dialogues in the entire movie, a long reflection on the Civil War, introduced by the yankee Warren’s wariness towards confederate Mannix (highly reciprocated), a sort of verbal sword fight, a continuous throwing back in each other’s faces dreadful war crimes enacted by both parts, in which negotiation is cast upon the disenchanted John Ruth, who does not hesitate into calling them both ‘ruffians’ and ‘a bunch of inept locos’.
‘You see, that’s the thing about war Mannix, people die.’
The movie’s beginning could not be better: exemplary direction, brilliant acting and masterful use of the soundtrack, composed by the Academy Awards candidate and already award winning Ennio Morricone, who goes back to western movies after the long pause suspended only for the partnership once again with our director from Texas for his Django Unchained.
The first twenty minutes highlight what will become the most important element of the whole movie: the dialogue, which dominates from the very beginning to the very end, bright especially during the first half, but undisputed through the whole plot. The chapter division, loved by Tarantino also in other previous motion pictures of his, works in this one too, conveying the idea of a creation influenced by the theatre (greatly) and by the novel genre. We also ought not forget that, while sketching the script, once a leak of information about the screenplay has been revealed, our good Quentin had caressed the idea of making ‘The Hateful Eight’ a narrative work.
The true title’s core, the carousel of characters identified by the general label of ‘hateful eight’, arises with the stagecoach’s arrival at Minnie’s stagecoach lodge.
The movie’s characters are indeed ‘hateful’, meaning ‘full of hatred’, excessively (or maybe not?) suspicious as John Ruth, deceptive as the Mexican Bob (Demiàn Bichir), treacherous as the English Red Rock hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), mysterious as the quiet Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) or as the old grumpy former Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern).
They are also ‘hateful’, meaning ‘unpleasant’: the movie lacks a character with whom anyone can establish a sincere bond of empathy, with whom identify himself, deeply understanding his true motives. Bitterness, hard looks, grumpy concealed suspicion, repeated lies, an immense distance between men constantly wrapped into a mysterious halo that will bring the entire situation to the inevitable downfall is what dominates in the mutual relationships between the eight Tarantino villains.
A downfall in Quentin Tarantino style. Do you remember the ending gun fire in Django Unchained?
Well, now you have a pretty rough idea of what we are talking about.
This deep malice that bursts out from every glance makes the eight main characters act like a grotesque parody of themselves, and this is exactly what enables us to compare the whole thing to a theatrical piece of work. The second half of the movie is indeed nothing more than the triumph of the three classical theatrical units, of action (little), time (a lot) and space, a huge tragedy taking place in a room where there is not enough space for all eight of them.
Action and any kind of emotion’s expression are missing. Instead of a comparison with Django Unchained, in spite of the western atmosphere, The Hateful Eight recalls the Mexican impasse of Reservoir Dogs, the representation of a miniature word of violence and hatred that has no real value outside its own walls. While watching the movie, you feel nothing, no involvement towards the characters’ personal stories and motives; they (obviously) cannot be loved, but truly hated nonetheless. Everything on stage aims at keeping the audience at the right distance, leaving them out from an emotional point of view, showing something it should stay unrelated. No hearts and flowers, and in the end heaps of blood, for those in love with the splatter truly genuine tarantinian touch.
The mystery element between the two halves of the movie is quite remarkable, tossing a big Cluedo challenge inside the stagecoach lodge’s walls, even though a few more plot twists would have not been too bad. But we will not go any further, for the sake of those who haven’t seen it yet.
A movie that clearly divided critics and viewers. But, you know, you can rather love or hate a Tarantino movie, and it is always difficult to have an extensive opinion of the whole lot. The Hateful Eight has unnumbered qualities, from the fine attention towards direction and screenplay to the magnificent acting with a stellar cast in which Kurt Russel and Samuel L. Jackson’s performances stand out, as well as the Academy Awards candidate Jennifer Jason Leigh’s. As far as the soundtrack is concerned, Morricone hits the bull’s eye once again, so that it will be very hard for his competitors to win the desired golden statue, even though John Williams (Star Wars: the Force Awakens) is right behind him. We suspect a fight between titans. However, because of the excellent preconditions, some elements might have been better, some prompts might have been developed more.
In brief, The Hateful Eight is a movie that you absolutely need to watch and on which you should reflect upon, especially for its distinctive traits towards the nowadays movie overview: an unconventional western movie, definitely soaked into tarantinian style’s typical elements, that cannot be neglected by fans, in spite of a rightful criticism.
‘You only need to hang mean bastards, but mean bastards you need to hang.’