Quentin Tarantino tests his audience’s patience with a dull, indulgent Western homage.
It takes a good storyteller to leave his audience wanting more. It takes a very special kind of storyteller to leave his audience wanting much, much less. Quentin Tarantino, king of the Sadistic Epic, has delivered with The Hateful Eight both his most and least shocking film as writer/director. This is, at almost three-hours, a painfully self-indulgent character drama with too weak a premise and too flat a script to earn its running time or its lavish production: Tarantino has shot his deep snowscapes on classical 70mm Panavision- almost the exact opposite of how Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant was filmed- and the experience of witnessing him play in his Weinstein-funded cinematic sandbox is reasonably enjoyable. But watching a manic child play in their sandbox for 187 minutes takes its toll, especially when they start to throw the blood-stained sand in Jennifer Jason Leigh’s face. Joining JJL in the cast are Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins and Damien Béchir. Jackson chuckles, Russell snarls, Madsen coughs, Roth lisps and Dern sits in an armchair shouting racial slurs. Everyone is a caricature, but these aren’t even good caricatures: the Eight of the title are a despicable bunch, and even the more charismatic among them can’t provide the audience a handle into any sort of emotional investment.
Such a shell of a film as this, where the grandiose cinematography and Ennio Morricone score (by no means amongst the maestro’s best work) hide an unoriginal story, need at least have boasted some top-tier Tarantino dialogue. Sadly, none of the verbal exchanges in The Hateful Eight stick quite as well as the physical exchanges. The film is at its most enjoyable when it gets really, really nasty, testing the viewer’s moral sensibilities in a way only QT can. Blood splashes everywhere and we are dared not to wince. The one woman in Minnie’s Haberdashery, the roadhouse where our lively gang spend most of the film’s duration, is punched in the face repeatedly to a numbing extent: by the end of the film, we are not affected. Tarantino, a newly outspoken anti-police brutality activist, is clearly trying to teach us lessons about ourselves, but the gooey urban landscapes of his best work seem a more suitable tableau for such social educating than a classic Hollywood western scenario. Two-third of the way through, QT performs a plot switcheroo so complex it makes the narrative mayhem of Pulp Fiction look like All Is Lost. But one is neither surprised by, nor interested in, said switcheroo, because the stakes are too low and the characters too dull to care about the fates of.
With its homage-paying, genre-flattening, brutally-violent pitch, The Hateful Eight must’ve sounded truly magnificent on paper. In its 3-hour reality, this is an undeservedly arrogant, unnecessarily nasty mess which merely highlights the unique brilliance of Tarantino’s best (Pulp Fiction) and even middling (Django Unchained) work. This sort of western should’ve stayed dead.