I have never written about a new movie for Bad Cinema. Part of what makes something “good” or “bad” is how they reveal themselves to us over time. How have they weathered the storm of reputation and history? After everything we know about a film’s shelf life, can we appreciate (or hate) it anew? And ordinarily I wouldn’t dream of putting my opinions down in the abyss like cosmos of InternetLand about something so fresh, so buzzed about, so “brilliant,” so “Oscar-worthy” as the newest film from a director I admire, no less. But I feel that is precisely the reason it must be said: The Hateful Eight is a lazy piece of crap. And I can’t for the life of me understand why people are lauding it.
The auteur movement is a cinematic theory that was spearheaded by a group of French filmmakers in the ’50s to celebrate the Director as King; auteur meaning “author” in French. Its main tenet is that one can look at a filmmaker’s body of work and know that it is theirs and no one else’s. We get a sense that we are peering into their vision of the world. It’s not crucial that the director in question also be the writer of the film – after all, the theory was created to celebrate Hitchcock and Ford, men who were not the originators of their material – but it is most obvious and consistent when they are: One can spot Mel Brooks’ or John Waters’ distinctive style of camp from across the room; Lars von Trier’s parabolic morality tale motifs are as obvious as his hand held camerawork; and Woody Allen has been crossing his lovers o’er the stars to lesser or greater degrees for the past 45 years.
Quentin Tarantino makes Revisionist Revenge films. Regardless of the milieu or era, Tarantino places his anachronistic characters, sometimes too unbelievably smart and savvy for their (and the film’s) own good, into situations that allow them to enact a cathartic experience for his underdog audience, despite the fact that very few of his characters are three dimensional people; Tarantino is the master of thwarting tropes and needling nostalgia, yet we are ALWAYS on the outside looking in (the closest he ever came to a real person was The Bride in Kill Bill – and we don’t even learn her name until well into the 4th hour of her journey). The titular character in Jackie Brown seeks revenge for being coerced into running drugs (and tacit revenge for being a black woman in America); The Bride seeks revenge for her attempted murder at her own wedding in Kill Bill; Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained allow Jews and slaves to fuck over the Nazis and the plantation owners, respectively, in the most Tarantino of ways – a blood bath scored to lush music where the good guys win.
I have always been a huge fan of Tarantino’s work. As a student of film history and a product of the Cynical-yet-celebratory-eye-towards-Pop-Culture generation, Tarantino’s universe, while drastically unrealistic and lacking anything that could be called pathos, is one that is usually exciting, unpredictable, and at the very least, quote worthy. But like Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Waters’ A Dirty Shame, von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, and Allen’s Irrational Man, Tarantino’s latest is an unfortunate example of what happens when a filmmaker is allowed to drown in his own hype, rehash his eccentricities, and go unchecked by a system that has deemed him a God.
The Hateful Eight is set a few years after the Civil War. John Ruth (a giant mustache with Kurt Russell somewhere behind it) is a bounty hunter taking his latest score, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh playing a bloodied up potty mouth prop) to be hanged and collect the 10,000 reward on her head. In the vast snowy wilderness, John and Daisy come across Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson as yet another bad-ass with a gun) and his own bevy of bounties awaiting rewards. John agrees to let him and his baggage aboard the stagecoach because he sort of knows him (as you would when you meet a random person in the middle of the forest). Warren is somewhat infamous for leading a Union brigade during the war and burning down a Confederate outpost. He also has a handy letter from Abraham Lincoln in his pocket for added prestige. They prattle on in long-winded didactic speeches (a Tarantino staple) in which Warren’s character is constantly referred to as a “nigger” (another Tarantino staple), especially when they pick up another passenger in the middle of the wilderness that they both sort of know, the racist (of course) new sheriff Mannix (Walton Goggins) of the town where they just so happen to be traveling. He convinces them if they don’t give him a ride, he won’t pay John for Daisy, nor Warren for his bounty of bodies. So they give him a ride and have more longwinded didactic conversation heavily laced with the word “nigger” that is supposed to tell us something about these people’s characters, but really is just an excuse for Tarantino to jack off into the ether with his “edgy” dialogue that I’m sure made Spike Lee hit the speed dial to his good friend Sam to ask why the hell he participated in something so egregious.
[While this dialogue choice works in Django Unchained – a slavery film set on a plantation – it really grows to levels of extreme discomfort in The Hateful Eight. Tarantino, never subtle and chronically adolescent in his fascination with the most forbidden of words, seems to throw it in any chance he gets just to be the guy who gets away with white people saying the word in 2015. His continued use of the word, perhaps close to 100, screams laziness from a man who knows how to turn a phrase without dropping 4 letter words every 5 lines]
The blizzard is too intense to travel to their destination so John, Mannix, Warren, and Daisy decide to stop off at at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a rest stop run by Mannix’s friends. But when they arrive, Minnie is nowhere to be found. The Mexican (we are constantly reminded of his ethnicity) running the place, Señor Bob (Demian Bachir) claims she and her husband have gone to visit her mother for the week and left him in charge. Mannix is dubious and keeps one eye on Bob at all times.
Also staying at Minnie’s are another trio, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), Gen. Smithers (Bruce Dern), and Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth in a part tailor made for Christoph Waltz). It just so happens that Oswaldo is the hangman who is going to kill Daisy and Smithers fought against Warren in the war on opposite sides. We get the sense that these men are not who they say they are. More longwinded didactic profanity ridden dialogue continues – including another race-baiting tangent about Sam Jackson’s BBD – until the Intermission. Yes, Tarantino, gives us an Intermission and an Overture to pay “homage” to the ’60s epic Westerns he is trying to rip-off, er, emulate. This is also why he shot the film in 70mm, a dying medium that was championed during the early days of television to get patrons off their couch and back to the movies. And while this makes sense for films like Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, and the big budget musicals with epic dance numbers and gorgeous landscapes, it seems like a giant waste of money (Harvey Weinstein had to spend 80 grand to put in projectors across the country) to use on a movie that for a good 90% of its 2 hours and 47 minutes takes place inside a monochromatic house. Yet another example of Quentin showing off for the sake of being the guy who can.
When we return from Intermission, a narrator (I bet you can’t guess whose voice it is…) fills in a few things we may have missed while we were off getting our popcorn. Someone has poisoned the coffee. And Daisy saw it happen. Is someone there to help Daisy escape? Part II of the film starts promisingly and is what one would call the most “Tarantino” of the scenes, in the best way possible. The repartee of the dialogue is brisk and feels crucial to the plot while at the same time we are getting important character insights. And then the violence begins, as iconic to Tarantino as Scorsese – although in Marty’s world one does not imagine an entire head begin disintegrated by two point blank range shots to the face. There is the inevitable flashback to tell us how we got where we are and who the characters really are (I won’t spoil it completely here in case you actually care).
Back in the present, people continue to die and have limbs shot (and cut) off to up the carnage factor (it’s no mystery why QT and Eli Roth are friends). Deals are brokered and the film ends the only way it can. Quentin Tarantino’s name flashes on the screen to remind us he is the author – as if it could have been anyone else.
The biggest shocker of all – despite my own hatred for a film from a man I thought could do no wrong – is the talk of an Oscar nomination for Jennifer Jason Leigh. While as I stated, few of his characters are real people, Daisy is one of his most one-note characters in a long while, brought to life by Jennifer Jason Leigh tapping into her own strange, outlier, Method-acting creepiness she brings to all of her roles. Why she is being singled out for this nut job who spends more than half of her performance being beaten or covered in brain splatter and screaming the “n” word when she has never netted a nomination before AND turned in a beautiful performance in Anomalisa this year is beyond me.