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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Hateful Eight movie review: all hat, no cattle

The Hateful Eight red light

Inexcusably self-indulgent. Tarantino gratifies his enormous self-love and his amusement at his own genius at the expense of all else.
I’m “biast” (pro): loved Tarantino’s last two films…

I’m “biast” (con): …but really hate some of his films, too

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Damn. So after the marvels of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino has swung back to the Kill Bill style of filmmaking, which I described in my review of Basterds as a cinematic “circle jerk in which he and his fans get off on one another and how clever they all are to be such rapacious film geeks.” With the inexcusably self-indulgent The Hateful Eight, Tarantino has returned to the gratification of his enormous self-love and his amusement at his own genius at the expense of all else.

There are no characters to like in Eight. It’s impossible to even hate them, never mind to root for them: they are not even bare approximations of people, and they all operate on the same flat level that suggests they know that they are cardboard cutouts in a bit of disposable exploitation junk. To be fair, they don’t have much of a story to engage with: what passes for plot here is mostly a roundrobin of trash talk, dick-measuring, and bloody violence. And all of that would probably be fine if Eight was nothing more than a quick and dirty 87-minute splatterfest. But Tarantino’s attempt at masturbatory movie geekery this time included shooting the film in an ultrawidescreen format that hasn’t seen the light of day in half a century and offering it in a Golden Age of Hollywood “roadshow” presentation, with an orchestral overture before the film starts and a 12-minute intermission to break up the three-hour-plus runtime (plus a souvenir program!). But this presentation is for sweeping epics such as the sort of films that used to receive it, such as War and Peace, Ben-Hur, and Lawrence of Arabia. Eight is not an epic film — there is nowhere near enough of anything here to justify the length or the presentation. And the standard digital version showing in most cinemas is only mere minutes shorter. I look forward to the truly clever fan who will eventually cut this down into the 87-minute version best suited to it; Tarantino should hire whoever pulls this off to edit his next film.

Eight does look amazing: the image is almost gasp-inducingly wide and gorgeously sharp (in the 70mm roadshow version, that is; I haven’t seen the standard version). And it sounds great, too: another bit of Tarantino’s geekery was hiring legendary composer Ennio Morricone, best known for scoring Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, to write the music. But these things alone do not a satisfying moviegoing experience make. They can be the icing on the cake, but they are not the cake itself.

The cake is mere crumbs. And it takes about 45 minutes for even the crumbs to be swept into a pile that might fool you into thinking you’re getting so much as a cookie. That’s when bounty hunters Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson: Barely Lethal, Avengers: Age of Ultron) — former major in the Union army — and John Ruth (Kurt Russell: Furious 7, The Art of the Steal), with Ruth’s prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh: Welcome to Me, Alex of Venice) in tow, finally arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery, not a hat store but a stagecoach outpost and stopover in the wilds of post-Civil War Wyoming. Here, they will wait out a blizzard with those already holed up out of the weather: Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins: American Ultra, Machete Kills), the myserious Bob (Demián Bichir: The Heat, Dom Hemingway), hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth: Selma, October Gale), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen: Scary Movie 4, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), and former Confederate general Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern: The Cake Eaters, The Astronaut Farmer). Minnie is nowhere to be found, which Warren finds mighty suspicious; Bob’s explanation for her absence sounds hinky to Warren. The dispositions of these folks and the nature of untamed frontier life would make them all uncomfortable company under the best of circumstances, and these are not the best of circumstances.

But as if this small movement in plot was exhausting, Eight takes a breather for another long while, standing still to engage in a lot of posturing, as the characters snipe at one another and Tarantino drops genre references like bombs: hey, there’s the piano player tinkling away, oblivious to the tension around him; oh, that recurring bit with the door is a tweak on the cliché about gunslingers busting into saloons through swinging shutters. After the intermission, suddenly there’s a narrator outta nowhere, telling us things we can see for ourselves; he’s not a character but has a voice-of-God perspective, so of course it’s Tarantino himself speaking. The only attempt the filmmaker makes as either screenwriter or director to say something, anything of even shallow import is in the attempt to depict the shadow play of racism and how easily it is punctured: Warren carries with him a handwritten letter from Abraham Lincoln he once received, which automatically garners him respect among white folks; Bob, as a Mexican, is considered fair game for hatred, merely on account of his ethnicity, even among black folks. But these are only more crumbs that never quite coalesce into anything meaningful. Both this and random film geekery are particularly annoying when Tarantino deployed both to such significant effect in Basterds and Django. It’s enough to make you wonder whether that significance is something he hit upon unconsciously.

Worst of all, the racist double standard that no one onscreen seems to recognize — indeed, they delight in it — is echoed, unconsciously, by the sexism of the film itself. Domergue is, without question, a bad guy — or bad gal, as it were. She is no worse than the men around her… and yet she is treated by the men as if she has crossed additional boundaries of good behavior in defying feminine propriety. She has done that, and that’s what makes her, marginally, the most interesting character here; she’s the least clichéd of them all. But where Tarantino is aware of the ironies of the racism he is depicting, he appears to have no clue that he is precisely as sexist as these 19th-century men. Lots of these men will be dead by the end of the movie, but their deaths will be depicted in comparatively more circumspect ways, with nothing close to the glee that Tarantino squees at the violence against Domergue. Tarantino revels in what are, essentially, bloody, gory cum shots of Domergue being debased in front of these men as she is drenched in the blood of a man who despises her. There is no dignity for her, no escape from the particular hatred of all of these men for her as a woman. And Tarantino presumes the audience shares that hatred.

By contrast, the one man stripped of his dignity here isn’t even a character: he appears in a story told by one of the characters, a story we are intended to presume may not have actually happened. The stripping of that man’s dignity is allegedly so outrageous — it is literally meant to enrage one particular character hearing it — that we are left to wonder at the truth of it. He doesn’t deserve that! we are supposed to think. What Domergue gets is unquestionably her real fate and — supposedly — she deserves what she gets. There is no Lincoln letter that can save her from it. Not in Tarantino’s imagination, and not in the supposed collective imagination of the viewer. Hateful, truly.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of The Hateful Eight for its representation of girls and women.


red light 1 star

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The Hateful Eight (2015)
US/Can release: Dec 25 2015
UK/Ire release: Jan 08 2016

MPAA: rated R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity
BBFC: rated 18 (strong bloody violence)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Patrick D

    Tarantino ceased to be interesting to me after “Jackie Brown”. I love his crime dramas in the 90s: “Reservoir Dogs”, “Pulp Fiction”, and “Jackie Brown”. They were down-to-earth, subtle (despite the occasional segues into violence), and were grounded in some semblance of reality.

    Then 7 years later, “Kill Bill” was on the marquee, and my did QT change. It was as MA says, quite self indulgent, cartoonish (how many times do we need to see plumes of blood spurting from characters?) and LONG. Then “Death Proof”, then “Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained”. All overwrought and lacking the elegance of his earlier work.

    And his attitude in how violence was portrayed was also different. The ear-cutting torture scene in “Reservoir Dogs” was played deadly seriously (despite Mr. Blonde’s ghoulish antics). Ditto for the rape scene in “Pulp Fiction”. That’s why they still stick with the public decades later.

    Is it weird for a director to be more mature and serious-minded when they’re younger?

  • mac888

    Perfect film review. This was not only Tarantino’s worst film, I seriously consider it to be one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Like ever. There is absolutely nothing worth seeing here.

  • Willow B.

    Good lord, I’m not gonna be requesting a quick way out for someone who gladly allowed multiple people to die for her sake. Four of those people were innocent bystanders caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. This isn’t counting the people she allegedly murdered herself. She is an all but soulless shell of a human who is the reason for everyone’s deaths in the movie. I don’t see how hanging someone meant to be hanged is misogyny on Tarantino’s part, and I’m definitely not seeing any reason why she should have been written to be empathetic. Just because she is a female villain who is demonized by male characters around her doesn’t mean that’s an indication of the movie’s role in the real institutionalized sexism of the Western world. And before you talk about my bias, I am a woman who did enjoy Hateful Eight.

    Other than that part, I agree with a lot of what you said. The movie had no business being as long as it was. The characters were two dimensional. And you didn’t mention this, but at times the acting was a bit painful.

    Regardless, thank you for the interesting, well-worded read!

  • TypicalWiredReader

    H8ful8 was just another excuse to see how many times QT can use the N word in four hours. Pretentious long winded nonsense.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    To elaborate on my Twitter description – Reservoir Dogs 2: the Redogenning – I’m surprised at how few critics and viewers have clued in to how this is Tarantino circling back on himself. Reservoir Dogs 2 isn’t even right, since even a sequel might say something new. This is just Reservoir Dogs in Cowboy Hats. But then, I’ve never understood how few critics and viewers are appalled at how self-indulgent and masturbatory Kill Bill was, either. Also, it occurs to me that his shtick was always paying homage to films of 20 years ago, so maybe he forgot that he’s the guy who made Reservoir Dogs?

  • I’m not gonna be requesting a quick way out for someone who gladly allowed multiple people to die for her sake.

    No one is asking you to do so.

  • Shoegatti

    PLOT HOLE: MINNIE DIDNT SO MUCH AS MENTION HER HATE OF MEXICANS? ALSO THE SCENERY BEFORE THE BLIZZARD AND SUN LIGHT IN THE CABIN IS WAY OFF. And there are also continuity issues

  • Please post spoilers warnings if you’re going to spoil!

    PLOT HOLE: MINNIE DIDNT SO MUCH AS MENTION HER HATE OF MEXICANS?

    In what way is that a plot hole? Warren told us this about her. That’s fine.

    Also: Why are you shouting?

  • Shoegatti

    Sorry. Minnie wouldn’t have let have let Bob into the shop in the first place if hating Mexicans was indeed her personal stance. It was more a continuity problem than a plot hole I guess.. But she would definitely have mentioned his presence according to deductions made which cued decision making by Warren.

  • Minnie wouldn’t have let have let Bob into the shop in the first place

    Well, she did take down the sign. And there’s a huge difference between tolerating a customer for a short while and hiring someone in a position of trust.

  • Danielm80

    SPOILER
    She took down the sign because she’d started admitting dogs, not because she’d become any less racist.

  • SmartApps

    I loved the film. Based on the reasoning behind many of the negative reviews, just a bunch of fucking pussies who don’t like it.

  • amanohyo

    Never in all of history hath a man and his appellation been wedded in such perfect harmony. Many thanks for generously bestowing upon us the intriguing fruit of your superior reasoning. Tell me noble sir, dost thou perchance blow minds for a living? Doth such wisdom flow naturally from thine every orifice like a sagely syrup? Reveal to us the arcane gems buried in these hallowed frames that thou alone hast beheld! Speak your truth, and lo ye shall witness a field of meek pussies blossom into a mighty forest of manliosity!

  • Pyotr Patrushev

    #tarantino is an utterly contemptible oaf; a pretentious, exploitative egotist. He should live among his many hateful heroes. Tarantino is contemptuous of the viewer, sloppy in his craft, sadistic and misogynistic in the extreme, exploitative in his money making exercise, pandering to the worst human instincts, aiming at the delinquent thug in us who utterly lacks any conscience or taste .

  • Pavle Schramadei

    Talking about the plot holes…what about Warren, obviously knowing practically everything about Minnie and her Haberdashery and never thinking about checking the cellar…OR: how could one explain that nobody from the stagecoach 2 (the O.B.’s one) even mentioned that there is no driver(s) in the cabin from the stagecoach 1 (parked in front as the stagecoach 2 arrives…OR even more, and that is really a MAJOR one: why would the villains at first place choose the Haberdashery for staging a set up, when we hear from O.B. that the only reason his stagecoach 2 ended up in the Haberdashery was the blizzard, while when stagecoach 1 arrived it was sunny and with no snow in sight – or should we suppose that they had a weather forecast for Red Rock while planning the rescue of Daisy Domergue???

  • Nathan

    Did he shoot your dog or something?

  • Nathan

    Did you ever watch Human Centipede?

  • Nathan

    No, old people are allowed to be nutty.

  • mac888

    True, that was atrocious. Perhaps I was being over dramatic. Still, this was an awful film.

  • Yes, but she could have put up a new sign.

  • Uncalled for.

  • SPOILERS

    Re the driver of the other coach: It is mentioned that he went off to “shack up with” a friend somewhere relatively nearby.

    Who says the Domergue gang originally planned their rescue for the Haberdashery? Perhaps this was a change to accommodate the weather?

    I hate to sound like I’m defending this film, but there really aren’t any plot holes, and even these — were they to constitute plot holes — are very minor, and don’t rise to the level of any significant problem with the film. This is not a story that, even if you love it, is about intricate plotting.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I disagree, there are a number of small plot problems that add up (in addition to all the other problems in this film). It is noteworthy that not even OB so much as inquires about the other driver. OB would have been able to count the number of horses. And if he didn’t own his own, Marquis was all about the oddities in the situation at Minnie’s, due to Bob’s presence, and should have asked OB if anything seemed amiss. And why does Marquis hold on to the incredibly damning “No Dogs or Messicans” sign story for so long? Why does Oswaldo claim to be, of all things, the Red Rocks hangman? (I mean, other than to give the “frontier justice” monologue?) And why does Tim Roth trade that effete British accent for a mockney* one when he drops the pretense?

    You’re right, none of these things are really a problem for the movie. They don’t directly affect the themes of the film. But I do think they, along with that godawful voice-over narration outta nowhere, may be indicative of an uncharacteristically lazy approach to basic storytelling.

    * I really can’t distinguish between British accents well enough to accurately describe the two Roth uses here. Hell, I can’t accurately identify more than maybe half a dozen American accents. Comes of spending one’s whole life in the West, and most of that in Southern California, I guess

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I remember going into Grindhouse totally ready to forgive Tarantino for the masturbatory self-indulgence of Kill Bill. I liked how he’d restricted himself to a 90 minute-ish runtime. I liked how he’d cast his favorite stuntwoman in a speaking role, Rosario Dawson in any role*, and gotten Kurt Russell out of what was looking like retirement**. I fully expected to have to slog through Robert Rodriguez’s latest nonsense to get to the good part of the evening.

    And I found Grindhouse to be the exact opposite of my expectations. Planet Terror is amazing. It’s the perfect homage to early/mid-80s low-budget, B-grade sci-fi/action flicks. The kind of thing where the parody and/or satire work best when you let the subject speak for itself. I watch that anytime I catch it. Death Proof, on the other hand, had but one surprise: that Tarantino can direct a really good car chase. But long before we get to that, the movie goes out of it’s way to prove that “masturbatory self-indulgence” is Tarantino’s thing now.

    * she really is one of the finest yet most under-rated and under-utilized actors working today. See the way she elevates the already remarkable Daredevil series on Netflix every time she appears.

    ** I’ve long been willing to watch the guy who was Jack Burton in anything

  • Hank Graham

    DAMN I wish you’d published before I’d gone to see this.

    I’m having mental images of Salma Hayek as the Muse in “Dogma,” saying, “Somebody sold their soul to Satan for that piece of shit.”

  • leah

    “Also, it occurs to me that his shtick was always paying homage to films of 20 years ago, so maybe he forgot that he’s the guy who made Reservoir Dogs?”
    This cracked me up (also apt). Note to self: don’t forget not to homage myself.

  • Sorry. I saw it the instant I first had access to it. I tried to get into a screening before Christmas, and the studio completely ignored my requests.

  • Miss Daisy D

    Nothing that Daisy does on screen justifies her treatment in this film – I am constantly amazed by the strange judgements that people pass on her – that it is OK for her to die in a pornographic fashion because she is evil, she is a monster, she is the spirit of racism, she is the confederacy, she is the anti Christ etc etc – there is something very very strange about many North American’s emotions and morality when they view this film

  • Miss Daisy D

    I wonder why there are so few people calling out the essentially pornographic nature of the treatment of Daisy, your review is amongst the sane minority, and it is good to read a more mature response
    For all the people who call Daisy a psychopath, I think that noun may be more relevant to them than to her.
    I come from a country where the death penalty is outlawed and the Weinstein brothers could not shut down entirely the comments about the constant bashing and killing of women by their partners and husbands in the home – which many believe that the Hateful Eight recalls

  • I wonder why there are so few people calling out the essentially pornographic nature of the treatment of Daisy

    Because they like it.

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