Overview: A group of eccentric strangers are thrown together in a desolate haberdashery when a blizzard hits, and as the snow piles up outside, a nefarious plot of murder and deception is revealed. The Weinstein Company; 2015; Rated R; 187 minutes.
A Doomed America: With The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino continues that long tradition of artistic cultural critique, and takes a hard look at America through the ages. What he comes up with is a very cynical, unhopeful view of the country, and while it doesn’t make for a very patriotic film, it does make for some excellent cinema. Although there are no heroes in The Hateful Eight, every character, from Samuel L. Jackson’s Union Major, to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s murderous outlaw, has some sort of ulterior motive. Everyone in the film is a killer, and no one is coming out of the film unscathed. The log cabin haberdashery where the majority of the movie takes place serves as a microcosm for all of America, and for Tarantino, America is a bloody palace of lies and callous death. Racism and hatred reign supreme, and neither societal ill is going away anytime soon. At times in the film’s script, Tarantino seems to be alluding to the horrible actions committed by Americans in the name of patriotism and justice over the years that have been re-justified by altered historic accounts and plagiarized speeches. But Tarantino is less pointing a finger at the audience than recognizing and (almost fatalistically) accepting the state of things. We are all trapped in the blizzard that is this fabled great nation, and it’s only getting worse.
The Tropes of Tarantino: With Tarantino’s preceding epic western, Django Unchained, it often seemed as if he was harking back to classic westerns, and playing with the quintessential tropes of the genre just for the fun of it, with little below the surface. The film’s perfunctory exploration of slavery in America, mixed with an unabashed use of the cliches present in the low-budget Italian westerns of the 1960s, made it seem like little more than an exercise in style; a well-produced and immensely entertaining exercise, but still an exercise nonetheless. In his newest outing in the horses-and-six-shooters genre, Tarantino takes the problems that plagued Django Unchained and fixes them ten times over, all while having just as much fun in so doing as he did before. At its best, the film goes far beyond mere reference, and in this it succeeds as another wildly original Tarantino opus.
A Steady Build: Where Django Unchained felt freewheeling and somewhat aimless, The Hateful Eight is as well-crafted and precise as Pulp Fiction. Every frame and every second of the film matters, building towards a deliberately insane and wonderful conclusion. It all starts off slow, showing nearly every second of the stagecoach journey of several characters to Minnie’s Haberdashery, with a blizzard of apocalyptic proportions trailing close behind. The expansive, cumulonimbus clouds hang over the Wyoming mountains with a brooding intensity that almost mirrors the plot itself: Ominous and brewing to a boil. The looming and brutal natural vistas, filmed in breathtaking Panavision 70mm, frame the action, giving the film a sense of claustrophobia and inevitability. Everyone is trapped in the snow and mountains with nowhere to go. The viewer has very little sense of what is going to happen, but the cabin fever tension of it all points toward bloodshed and fury. When the story finally does come to a head, it is unexpected, yet it makes total sense, though because Tarantino loves to revel in mundane conversations and cinematic tricks, it becomes easy to forget what a clever storyteller he is, and The Hateful Eight is a blood-soaked testament to how damn he good is at spinning a tale.
Overall: The Hateful Eight is a glorious, exciting, and terribly well-crafted killer of a film that should be seen by all, and serves to stand as an example of Tarantino working at the very peak of his filmmaking abilities.