********* 6 out of 10 *********
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Actors: Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh
No one can tell a story the way Quentin Tarantino can. It’s got a magic of its own, a style that is unique. Tarantino’s movies build memorable characters, are rich with dialogues, cleverly mix drama with action, and hold a tinge of suspense that make the plot edge-of-the-seat stuff. His last two films – Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained – are works of art, worthy of being counted amongst the best movies of the past decade. So undoubtedly we go for a screening of The Hateful Eight with tremendous expectations. It is against those high expectations that Tarantino’s latest movie falls woefully short. With a dark western movie Tarantino was playing to his strengths, but he has ended up getting intertwined in his own script which did hold the potential for a great movie within it, but was not chiseled well enough to bring out another masterpiece.
The opening shot of The Hateful Eight provides a white mountainous backdrop as a six-horse driven stagecoach rides on a thin road, escaping an incoming blizzard. In the carriage, a bounty hunter called John Ruth (Kurt Russell) carries with him a murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to be deposited at Red Rock against a hefty sum of money. On his journey he is joined by another bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) who is carrying cargo of his own. It’s a brilliant opening sequence, rhythmic in its approach, allowing the audience to get used to the ‘whiteness’ that will play a big part in the movie. The cinematography by Robert Richardson, a three-time Oscar winner (and now a nominee for The Hateful Eight), is captivating and provides the perfect sense of loneliness that is central to the movie’s theme. Along with that is the thrilling music of Ennio Morricone who at 87 years of age is still the undisputed king of music for western flicks!
Large part of the movie is played out in a lodge where the occupants of the stagecoach take shelter to escape the blizzard. The lodge’s existing occupants and the new entrants make for the ‘Hateful Eight’ (though there are nine characters in the lodge), and soon we get mingled with the paranoia of John Ruth as to who is out to free his bounty. The story by Tarantino has the flavour of a suspense-filled intriguing western flick, and the movie’s opening bits lay the seeds for such a film. But soon after, the rhythm and the pace horribly slow down. While long monologues have always been traits of great Tarantino movies, they have never seemed so disconnected with the script as is the case here. Painfully long scenes with little activity hardly enhance the gusto with which the movie had started. The run-time of 2 hours and 47 minutes seems a good 20 minutes long, something that should have been handled better in the editing room. The run-time in itself is not the problem – for Django Unchained and the classic The Good, The Bad and The Ugly were hardly any shorter in comparison – but the absence of meaningful events to fill that narrative is where the problem lies. The biggest letdown is one particular chapter (there are six chapters in all) which gives us a flashback of events that is hardly engaging since we already know the conclusion of that chapter by then.
The complaints have to be restricted to Tarantino’s handling of his narrative. When it comes to the lead actors, he could not have cast anyone better than the trio of Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The first two are masters in this business, effortlessly putting on the clothes of any character that is asked of them. They occupy the screen with such powerful personalities and charisma that even an elephant can go unnoticed if sharing screen space with them. Jennifer Jason Leigh as the dangerous crazy killer – a role that has got her an Oscar nomination – puts in one of her best performances ever, spitting fire with her eyes, and providing some sharp wit that comes as a total surprise. The three of them ride the stagecoach in the first chapter, which is truly the best one of the movie, as their characters and the different personalities engage with each other to create the sort of tension and drama that has Tarantino written all over it.
From the rest of the cast, Walter Goggins clearly stands out as Chris Mannix, a character with multiple shades that keeps on unraveling right till the end. Tim Roth as the Englishman looks to be filling the gap of Christoph Waltz though to a lesser charming degree, whereas Michael Madsen is wasted in the cowboy look. Bruce Dern though leaves a strong mark on the movie despite being rooted to his chair for most parts, but then you wouldn’t have expected any less from an actor of Dern’s calibre. Channing Tatum has a brief role too, one that adds some excitement, but is short-lived.
There are the die-hard Tarantino lovers, who will find the Tarantino magic still present in The Hateful Eight. But not for me. The pacing of the movie lacks the thrill that his other movies carried, which dilutes the entertainment that Tarantino undoubtedly was trying to offer. Nonetheless, it does not make me skeptical of the future films that he will direct, for a Tarantino movie is a Tarantino movie after all!