Review: The Hateful Eight

By Peter Calder

11 comments
Warning: This review may contain spoilers ...

The 6.30pm start time for last night's local premiere of the new Quentin Tarantino was to be taken with a grain of salt, much like the director's movies.

As the man himself - along with Waiheke-born Zoe Bell, stuntwoman extraordinaire and Tarantino regular - pressed the flesh with fans who crowded round a velvet-roped corral in the foyer of Event Cinemas in Newmarket, the time ticked on towards 7.

And the pair still had to drop into each of the several screenings to lap up the adulation and toss the obligatory inanities into the sea of cellphone cameras.

It's unlikely the keen anticipation was entirely requited. On the heels of the deliciously twisted Inglourious Basterds and the insanely entertaining Django Unchained, this one is a far clumsier, clunkier piece of work.

Quite apart from its occasional longueurs - whole movies have been made that could have fitted into the exchange where one man asks another whether that really, really is a letter from Abraham Lincoln that he's carrying - it's as wordy as an Eric Rohmer picture.

With the action confined largely to two interiors - the first half-hour is in a stagecoach, the rest in a mountain cabin - it's a chamber piece in a crowded chamber, a whodunnit more in the mould of Agatha Christie than action movie.

There's certainly enough blood (and other body fluids) to satisfy any appetite, particularly when the impressive firepower on hand is unleashed.

But the only thing that makes it seriously interesting is that what amounts to a second film begins at the mid-point, and even then it's hard not to shake a sense of dread at having to sit through it all again.

Where Django was set in the antebellum south, Hateful takes place in the postbellum north, a blizzard-lashed Wyoming (though filming was in Colorado).

The war may be over, but its shadow stretches over the action: half the characters we will meet seem to know each other from some battlefield or other and hostilities continue here.

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Through the snowy landscape moves that stagecoach, carrying bounty hunter John Ruth (Russell), who is taking Daisy Domergue (Leigh) to be hanged.

Soon enough, though more than a little reluctantly, Ruth takes on board Marquis Warren (Jackson), who is in the same line of work, and Chris Mannix (Goggins), who may or may not be the newly appointed sheriff in the town where they are heading.

Failing to outrun the blizzard, the quartet seek shelter at the oddly named Minnie's Haberdashery, an isolated hostelry, where four men are already in residence (yep, the stage driver makes nine, but there are many more to come; my body count was 15, but I may have missed some): a plummy Pommy hangman (Roth); a scowling Confederate general (Dern); a taciturn cowboy (Madsen); and the Mexican (Bichir), in charge in Minnie's absence.

It hardly needs saying that none of these four is what he seems nor that Tarantino has assembled them only for the purposes of killing them off, one by one, usually with ferocious and spectacular grisliness. But before the shooting starts, they must square off, in dialogue unsurprisingly foul-mouthed, racist or misogynist and sometimes all at once.

Just when things get interesting, the picture freezes and a voiceover (the director's own) takes us back several hours earlier to lay the narrative groundwork - and to gently chide us for missing the clues.

Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight.
Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight.


Warning may contain spoilers

Tarantino shot on film and in 70mm, though that's a luxury that will be lost on audiences here, since it isn't screening anywhere in 70 so we get a tell-tale black line top and bottom.

Given the shortage of wide-screen compositions, it seems like an odd decision; it may pay off in some of the facial closeups, though they seemed rather studied, as do obscure and knowing references to films of the 40s and 50s.

There's no denying the dazzling virtuosity on show here - and local audiences will be cheered by the all-too-brief appearance of Bell, who not only sports a broad New Zild accent but also namechecks Auckland.

But Tarantino's eighth film (of a foreshadowed 10) seems more perversely brutal and less wickedly funny than any he's done before.

There's no satirical edge to add wit to the wickedness and bonhomie to the butchery.

By the time we get to the third-to-last death, the means and the lipsmacking attention to detail is more than faintly sickening. It's hard not to wonder whether the title is to be applied not to any portion of the cast, but to the film itself.

Verdict: Wordy, often clunky and short on the trademark wit

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Zoe Bell, Lee Horsley, Gene Jones, Keith Jefferson, Craig Stark, Belinda Owino, Channing Tatum

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Running time: 170 mins

Rating: R18 (graphic violence, sexual violence, offensive language)

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