*. I don’t want to hate on The Hateful Eight. It’s better than Django Unchained, Inglourious Bastards, or Kill Bill (Vols. 1 and 2). But it’s a movie so full of a sense of its own importance that it begs deflation.
*. It bills itself — on the title screen no less! — as Quentin Tarantino’s 8th film. There were rumours at the time that it would be his last, at least as director. Looking over his filmography, it’s hard to feel excited about this. My admiration for Pulp Fiction is second to none, but all the talk about that movie heralding a transformative new talent didn’t pan out.
*. The credits also alert us to the fact that the movie was shot in 70 mm. This probably won’t mean anything, or make a difference, to anyone watching it on TV. Or at the local multiplex, for that matter. Which makes it, however meritorious, a hard decision to justify.
*. A lot of people wondered why Tarantino wanted to go this route when so much of the movie was set in a stagecoach and a cabin, with only a handful of outdoor establishing shots. Anthony Lane thought it might have something to do with exploiting close-ups, as “what absorbs the director is the ever-changing landscape of the human face.” I have a hard time crediting this, as Tarantino has few close-ups here, and certainly nothing like a Leone-ish absorption in them.
*. The interiors also have the effect of making this a very dark film, lit in a very theatrical way. Again, this makes it hard to rationalize the use of 70 mm, when so little of the frame can be seen clearly. I’m sure there’s a texture there, but it’s hard to make out.
*. Personally, I think Tarantino just wanted to paint on an epic canvas and didn’t much care if it fit his story. This leads to some distortions. The inside of Minnie’s Haberdashery, for example, seems like it’s the size of a barn, or aircraft hangar. The spaces between the characters is so large you think they’ll need to shout at each other just to be heard. Widescreen has a tendency to do that, as I noted in my comments on Point Blank (where Boorman consciously exploited the effect).
*. I mentioned the outdoor establishing shots. I wonder why more wasn’t done with these. In particular, the location of the haberdashery and the stables and the outhouse seems to have been set up with care. I thought for sure some use was going to be made of the outhouse but I think it only gets employed once. Instead of doing anything with the location, once the damn door is nailed shut it stays shut. We may as well be watching a play on a single set.
*. Time is inflated in a manner commensurate with the stretching of space. The theatrical release runs 167 minutes and the “roadshow” version twenty minutes longer. I haven’t seen the roadshow version. Since I think the general release version is too long as it is, I probably wouldn’t like it.
*. Is this length justified? I’d like to say it is, because I don’t find it a dull movie. On the other hand, I can’t think of any reason why it has to be so long. The plot certainly doesn’t require it.
*. This is a point worth expanding on. People like to compare this movie to an Agatha Christie mystery like Murder on the Orient Express with its train full of snowbound passengers. They also like to talk about the remarkable “twists” in the plot. I see almost no mystery and no twists at all. We know something is up at Minnie’s. In due course that something is revealed. That is not a twist.
*. As for the mystery, when Marquis Warren turns Poirot and explains the process that has brought him to certain conclusions about what is going on, he does it with evidence that none of us in the audience are privy to (and some of which is probably made up). If that’s Tarantino’s idea of a mystery, I’ll stick with the cozies.
*. Ennio Morricone’s score hits a nice sinister, suspenseful note when required, but Tarantino has no interest in building suspense. His films are more given to explosive and surprising frustrations of suspense. You think he’s putting the pieces in place for suspense (like driving those spikes into the ground to string a guideline to the outhouse) and then there’s an eruption of violence and it’s over. The squibby money shots are cinematic premature ejaculation.
*. The coffee incident is a good example. By telling us that the coffee is poisoned he’s prepared the ground for a classic bit of Hitchcockian suspense. The audience now knows something that (most of the) characters in the story don’t. It’s like the bomb under the table. But before this can be developed, and nothing is done to develop it, everyone is suddenly puking blood like they’ve just been infected with the virus from 28 Days Later. And shouldn’t Daisy be turning into a zombie then, since she gets so much of it full in the face?
*. The reason we know the coffee is poisoned is because Tarantino (as intrusive narrator) has told us. Was this narration a wise idea? It’s a typical Tarantino alienation trick, poking us that we’re really just watching a movie. But I question it’s purpose. Given that the information he gives us isn’t used for any dramatic effect, wouldn’t it have been better not to tell us that the coffee was poisoned, so that we’d at least be startled when people began vomiting Niagaras of blood? Then we could quickly follow along with the others in determining that the coffee was spiked.
*. We begin with a shot of a crucified Christ as a kind of guide post. Which is symbolic of . . . what? I don’t think we’re meant to see any of these characters as redeemed or as martyrs.
*. I don’t usually carp on minor points of probability, but it does seem ridiculous how the carriage keeps driving along a perfectly plowed road. I guess we just have to assume that someone has been doing an awful lot of shoveling.
*. I did say I liked this better than any of Tarantino’s more recent work. The cast seem to mostly understand that they’re only meant to be caricatures. I thought Jennifer Jason Leigh was underused as a rancid punching pag. Demián Bichir as “Bob” the well-muffled Mexican is hilarious and steals the show. The hoods from Reservoir Dogs (Roth and Madsen) look out of place.
*. It’s too long, but stays interesting even when it’s just lazily spinning its wheels. At times it shows hints of trying to be something more — like an essay on American justice or a battle royale of dueling fabulists — but finally settles for being just another shoot-’em-up.