The Hateful Eight is the Right Kind of Trouble

Hateful-Eight-posterShortly after the intermission of the 70mm roadshow presentation of The Hateful Eight, writer and director Quentin Tarantino narrates a recap of the film’s events. It’s a moment of excitement as the ringmaster enters the big top to imply ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’. Only a filmmaker with Tarantino’s confidence can achieve this meta nudge to the audience, but it’s completely warranted, because Tarantino crafts a superb ‘whodunnit’ worth invading his own film to brag about.

It’s the sensibility of a novelist at work in The Hateful Eight (it’s even divided into chapters) that allows the mystery to remain taut as eight people (Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern and Michael Masden) seek refuge from a blizzard in a cabin a short time after the end of the American Civil War. You could replace the cabin with a train and you’d be in the middle of Murder on the Orient Express—Agatha Christie’s ghost howls through this film. There’s a status war waged as these deplorable characters drift between high and low status in their interactions with each other. And Tarantino is unwavering in his dedication to making The Hateful Eight as grotesque as possible, which means none of the characters are glorified—it struts in the darkness of human nature and it’s meant to be ugly, it’s Tarantino’s think piece on the insistence of ‘likeable characters’ in cinema. The characters are forever setting verbal traps for each other in hopes of catching someone in a lie or agitating them into conflict as a means to justify killing for the sake of self-defense. Jackson’s character (the closest Tarantino gets to anointing a detective), a former Union Major turned bounty hunter, carries around a letter from President Abraham Lincoln that becomes a focal point in the narrative and one of the great Tarantino storytelling totems (along with the suitcase from Pulp Fiction and the sword in Kill Bill). The analysis of the validity of the letter, the way different characters react to it, and how Jackson’s character uses it to disarm people, informs the attitudes of the different factions rebuilding America after the Civil War. It even illuminates the dirty politics of a nation in transition (especially in the context of American history, which one could argue is still transitioning) and the sly tactics of survival on the frontier.

To say the atmosphere of the cabin is claustrophobic is an understatement and the 70mm scope of the film puts these despicable rogues in your face so you can’t look away. The 70mm also opens up the interior to allow you to take in all the detail of the cabin that is littered with clues to unlocking the mystery. The chilling score by Ennio Morricone adds to the untrustworthy dread of the setting and each orchestral cue feels like a knife ready to stab someone in the back. Even the location of characters within the layout of the cabin establishes their alibi when things start to get bloody—and the confrontations get squishy. The escalation of the violence is as pulpy as we’ve come to expect from Tarantino—heads and chests explode—but in The Hateful Eight, it works a little against the battlefront of minds and ideals so expertly crafted. The dialogue and performances slay harder than any bullet fired in the finale.  It feels a tad mismatched because Tarantino’s tone wobbles as the violence leans toward comedy—especially directed toward Leigh’s character, even thought she earns equality to her male counterparts as a scoundrel—but there’s something oddly satisfying about the way the characters of The Hateful Eight self-destruct and drag each other to Hell in a storm of blood and gunfire.

As Hell (America) freezes over in the wake of the Civil War, Tarantino shakes the hornet’s nest of race, gender, justice and the politics of patriotism in The Hateful Eight, and there’s a sense of gratitude that a troublemaker filmmaker of Tarantino’s acumen exists (especially in a year where Americans vote for their next President). The Hateful Eight is the right kind of trouble we need right now.

Cameron Williams

The Popcorn Junkie