Most action/thriller movies these days rely heavily on either CGI or vast scenic backdrops, that double up as distractions when not much is happening on screen. Quentin Tarantino has never really needed either. He has words. Rooted in only two settings throughout its runtime of over three hours, The Hateful Eight confines the action into a concentrated area, and hence magnifies its effect. The idea could have bombed in the hands of a lesser mortal.
Reminiscent of the sex ratio in most nightclubs in India, seven men and a woman find themselves holed into a haberdashery to shield themselves from an ongoing blizzard. The next few hours involve a battle of wits and shifting allegiances as every person tries to outsmart the other. Fitting in eight characters and doing justice to all of them in the space of a movie is not the easiest thing to do, but we see characters that have been craftily etched out by Tarantino.
With an ensemble cast which includes Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, and Jennifer Leigh to name a few, The Hateful Eight develops all characters as it goes along. Samuel L Jackson, an actor who is often heavily lampooned for his choice of films. However, he redeems himself whenever he works under the strict eye of Quentin Tarantino. As a Major Marquis Warren, he gets the meatiest role in the film by far.
Throughout most of the film, the viewer is held captive with the masterful use of dialogue. Conversation has always been an integral characteristic to Tarantino’s films. The most banal of topics discussed between two characters become engrossing when written by him. The journey from words to violence is a slow and steady descent here. When words no longer sustain civility, violence creates a sense of safety.
Veteran Kurt Russell does a commendable job as the ‘Hangman’ , while the other Tarantino regulars Michael Madsen and Tim Roth return as Joe Gage and Oswaldo Mobray. Both do a competent job, but the mean streak that Michael Madsen is so easily capable of is not utilised.
Set in the post civil war era, it is shot in glorious 70mm Panavision, all the characters find plenty to do in the wide range of the lens. The 70mm lens, which is utilized best in grand epics, seems to be an odd choice for a tale which is mostly set indoors.
Violence is a prevalent aspect in the world of Quentin Tarantino. The violence that seemingly affable people are capable of when pushed towards the edge. However, it is always justified. Here, we don’t see vengeful violence like a Django Unchained or Inglorious Basterds. We see men reasoning their way into murder. For instance, Major Warren, although always armed, deduces the motives of a person carefully and only pulls the trigger when it becomes essential to his own survival.
The conservative Media Research Center has referred to the film as “a snuff film with big-name stars”, and denounced the heavy use of violence. The implication here is that Tarantino relies on excessive depiction of violence to sell a movie. This is not the case. The violence here is toned down from earlier Tarantino offerings and often borders on the comical with an overuse of squirting blood.
As expected, a moral code is almost absent from the DNA of the film. The repeated references to the blackness of Samuel L Jackson’s character portray the ugly face of an America of the past, and maybe even the present.
Another dominant strain throughout is the silencing of the woman. We hear about Dommy Domergue from different characters uptil the very end, and she is not given a voice. In a film filled to the brim with conversation, Leigh’s absence from the activity becomes glaring. After a while, it becomes unclear whether Tarantino is commenting on the unfair treatment of women or partaking in it. Jennifer Leigh, as Daisy Domergue proves that she doesn’t always need the spoken word to get the message across.
The Golden Globe winning background score of the film enmeshes with the narrative in interesting ways and creates a riveting experience. 87 year old composer Ennio Morricone has created an original score which is minimalistic but does the job.
Race has been an integral theme to some of the works of Tarantino. While movies such as Django Unchained were an unabashed celebration of the violence that an oppressed slave unleashes on his white tormentors, The Hateful Eight tones it down a few notches. Major Marquis Warren’s(Samuel L Jackson) confrontation with the racist General Sandy Smithers(Bruce Dern) is possibly the highlight of the film.
Aware of the consequences of shooting an unarmed man, Jackson, as Warren places a pistol within reach of the army veteran. He then begins to narrate a story provoking the General to reach for the weapon.
The Hateful Eight has a liberal dosage of all the Tarantinosque elements that we are used to by now; masterful storytelling, men who like to talk a lot, bloodbaths, the n-word, people dying a lot, and a good old Mexican stand-off. Tarantino has recently stated that he will possibly make no more than 10 films. With eight already in his kitty, we might not be seeing a lot more of the director, but he seems intent on bowing out on a high note.