Mekaela and I chose to celebrate New Years Eve with the things we love best: cookies, tacos, caffeinated beverages that may or may not have had booze in them, and–of course–movies, the first of which ended up being Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.
We began this movie in 2016, but since it took eons for anything to actually happen, it didn’t end until 2017, and thus became our first movie of the year.
You may have picked up on this, being the clever readers I know you are, but I didn’t really care for the film.
This is, hopefully, going to be a Baby Review, not because I don’t have loads to say, but because I’m–as ever–short on time, and I’m trying to give myself permission to occasionally write shorter reviews. Maybe this way, I’ll actually get to more of them.
More importantly, this Baby Review is loaded with SPOILERS, and not just for this movie, but also for, oddly enough, Murder on the Orient Express. You’ve been officially warned.
John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is trying to take his bounty, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to Red Rock to be hanged. Unfortunately, a blizzard traps him and a bunch of other people in a cabin, and not everyone is who they appear to be.
1. I’ve been a Tarantino fan for a long time now, but I do feel that over the years my enthusiasm for his work has begun to seriously wane. I still love some of his movies (Kill Bill is probably my favorite), but while I relatively enjoyed both Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained while watching them in theater, I’ve also never felt much need to re-watch them. And now that I’ve hit The Hateful Eight, I just . . . I just actively dislike it.
I wanted to like it. You have no idea how much I wanted to like this movie; besides being a Tarantino fan, I’m just a huge sucker for the basic premise. And this cast? All excellent. Unfortunately, the things I like about this movie and the things I don’t like about this movie seem wildly unbalanced.
2. Here are the things I like about this movie:
A. Kurt Russell’s over-the-top John Wayne impression.
He even says “that’ll be the day.” It’s pretty magnificent.
B. Actually, everyone’s performances are pretty good, particularly Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, and Walton Goggins–who, happily, has far more screen time than I anticipated! I was very pleased with this turn of events.
C. The Lincoln Letter
D. O.B., that poor bastard
E. The poisoned coffee. Not just because it meant that the plot was finally kicking into gear, but because the image of Kurt Russell vomiting up a bloodbath burned itself into my brain. (In fact, the first book I read this year had someone throwing up after eating poisoned food, and I found it impossible to divorce that scene from this image.)
3. The rest of this review, unfortunately, is dedicated to the list of things that I did not like about this movie. In no particular order:
A. Sweet Jesus, the excessive use of the n-word. And yes, I know, Tarantino used it much, much more in Django Unchained than he did here, but for some reason, it didn’t bother me nearly as much in that film. Maybe it’s because I felt that it was serving an intentional purpose in that story, or maybe it’s simply because I’ve changed; regardless, the 58 times it was said in this movie seemed to be about shock value and nothing else.
B. Also excessive: the number of times a man (almost always Kurt Russell) hit Jennifer Jason Leigh in the face.
Because it’s not that I won’t take any violence to women in film–in fact, I’m actually in favor of seeing more brutal fight scenes between men and women, provided the women are hitting back just as hard. But these aren’t fight scenes. This is just a guy repeatedly and viciously punching the only main female character in the face over and over. And once again, the only reason it seems to happen is shock value. That sat poorly with me.
C. Especially because the tone of the actual ending doesn’t work for me, either. A dying Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins hang Daisy Domergue, triumphantly laughing as they watch her feet desperately kick in the air, and I know I’m supposed to have this, “YEEEEAH, that’s called KARMA, bitch!” reaction. I wish I could have had that reaction. I’m all about karmic deaths for evil characters, regardless of gender, and I totally get the basic arc of “we’re gonna kill her the way she should be killed, the way our dead friend wanted her killed.”
But while Daisy is a terrible person and by no means a blameless character, she’s also a very passive character–she doesn’t actually do any of her own killing in this film, and we never see any of her dastardly acts in the past. In fact, Samuel L. Jackson (who–if not quite playing the hero–certainly seems to be playing the MC whom the audience is intended to rally behind) actually does far more awful things, both past and present, than we see or hear from Daisy Domergue. So, when SLJ and WG kill her, their laughter seems less like something I can share; it feels less triumphant than it does sadistic, and the whole thing has a stronger hint of misogyny than I, personally, was comfortable with.
D. Jesus Christ, the PACE.
There is no reason–NO REASON–this movie needs to be anywhere near three hours long. Like, sure, I like some talky movies, and Lord knows I have a tendency to be overly verbose myself, but for Christ’s sake. It takes 35 minutes for our characters to even arrive at the goddamn haberdashery, and so little of what’s said on the way there is relevant to the actual plot. The things you learn that you actually need to know could easily have been told in ten minutes, twenty tops. And then it’s another hour on top of that until someone is finally killed, and even that death isn’t particularly plot relevant! The Hateful Eight eventually kills off basically every character, but the first plot relevant death does not happen until 1 hour and 45-minutes into the movie.
Look, I know The Hateful Eight was heavily influenced by John Carpenter’s The Thing, and I’m all about that, but the thing about The Thing is that it doesn’t take nearly two hours for a plot relevant corpse to pop up. Because if it did, you know, the movie would nearly be over.
E. Let us not forget the 21-minute and completely unnecessary flashback where we watch The Bad Guys murder some of the most cheerful women in existence (plus some old white dude and one nice black guy). You know, in case we weren’t all clear on the fact that these guys were dicks.
21 minutes, people. 21 MINUTES.
F. The sudden entrance of the narrator halfway through the film . . . look, that’s just a hard thing to pull off. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I don’t think it works here as well as it could. Ideally, a big intrusive change like that would indicate a huge narrative shift, like a total genre flip or a complete meta-mindfuck.
What it indicates to me here: “Oh, BTW, you might wanna wake up, because we’re finally going to remember the plot.”
G. Finally, pretty much the whole mystery of who is Daisy Domergue’s accomplice.
Again, I love the very basic premise. Bunch of people trapped in one place and at least one, if not more, is secretly working with the enemy? I mean, I am there. I’m the proverbial moth to the flame with that kind of story.
But I find the execution pretty severely lacking, and while a lot of that is the pace . . . it’s not only the pace. Mysteries have to be setup properly, and I’m not at all convinced this one is. We get a couple of details here and there (an odd blanket on a chair, a single jellybean on the floor, etc.) but the audience has no opportunity to try and put those together for themselves, no real chance of guessing what they mean. The twist that everyone who was already at the haberdashery (except Bruce Dern) is involved feels like an anti-climax, probably because we really know nothing about who these characters are, past or present. Bob has a clear hole in his story, sure, but we never get the opportunity to find out anything about the others. The Hateful Eight is a three-hour mystery that somehow does not have enough time to present clues that allow us to rule out (or at least think we rule out) characters as suspects.
And then when we do find out who Tim Roth, Demián Bichir, and Michael Madsen are, like, who cares? They only feel vaguely connected to Daisy Domergue–like, this isn’t exactly Murder On the Orient Express, where every character turns out to have such a deeply personal connection to someone from the original crime that the “They All Did It Twist!” makes actual sense. Besides, we don’t really discover these guys’ true identities, anyway; they’re merely announced to us, like someone reading names off an index card. So it doesn’t really matter that Samuel L. Jackson knows these guys are the baddest of bad motherfuckers, because we’ve never heard of these people. What do we care that Joe Gage’s real name is Grouch Douglas? A reveal of a secret identity ought to be shocking or meaningful or something, but here it’s just like . . . yeah, okay?
The only reveal that actually feels like it means a damn is the one that Jody (Channing Tatum) has been hiding under the floorboards this entire time. And even that doesn’t work for me, mostly because it feels like a cheat. The only reason I’m not 100% screaming CHEAT!!! at the top of my lungs is that, if you’re paying attention to the opening credits, you do know that Tatum is somewhere in this movie, and the fact that he hasn’t arrived yet, even though two hours have passed, might seem a little suspect. Still, Jody feels like he literally comes out of nowhere to shoot Samuel L. Jackson in the junk, and maybe in a less sloppy mystery that would annoy me less, but here I find it frustrating.
It is also, I think, possibly a matter of poor timing. Once John Ruth and O.B. (RIP, O.B.!) are dead, Samuel L. Jackson turns into kind of a pissed off, homicidal, and Western version of Hercule Poirot.
Like, okay, try to imagine that this is Murder on The Orient Express, all right? (Or really any novel with our famous Belgian detective exercising his little grey cells.) Here Poirot is, giving his Big Reveal Speech, discussing each suspect one by one–but before we can complete the investigation, before we can figure out who everyone is, how they all fit together, and have our big, satisfying A-HA! moment, some totally random motherfucker pops up from beneath the train and shoots Hercule Poirot’s nuts off.
Like, I’m not saying there isn’t a certain novelty to that development, but as a mystery goes, there’s also a deep level of dissatisfaction that comes with it, you know?
John “The Hangman” Ruth: “Yeah, Warren, that’s the problem with old men. You can kick ’em down the stairs and say it’s a accident, but you can’t just shoot ’em.”
Major Marquis Warren: “My bounty’s never hang, cause I never bring ’em in alive.”
John “The Hangman” Ruth: “Never?”
Major Marquis Warren: “Never ever. We talked about this in Chattanooga. Bringing a desperate man in alive is a good way to get yourself dead.”
John “The Hangman” Ruth: “Can’t catch me asleep if I don’t close my eyes.”
Major Marquis Warren: “I don’t want to work that hard.”
Major Marquis Warren: “When the handbill says “dead or alive”, the rest of us shoot you in the back from up on top a perch somewhere and bring you in dead over a saddle. But when John Ruth the Hangman catches you, you don’t die from no bullet in the back. When the Hangman catches you, you hang.”
Chris Marquis: “Like I said, friend, you’ve got me at a bit of a disadvantage.”
John “The Hangman” Ruth: “Keeping you at a disadvantage is an advantage I intend to keep.”
Major Marquis Warren: “The only time black folks are safe is when white folks is disarmed. And this letter had the desired effect of disarming white folks.”
Oswaldo Mobray: “Gentlemen, gentlemen, I know Americans aren’t apt to let a little thing like an unconditional surrender get in the way of a good war. But I strongly suggest we don’t re-stage The Battle of Baton Rouge during a blizzard in Minnie’s Haberdashery.”
Chris Mannix: “Ole Mary Todd . . . that’s a nice touch.”
Narrator: “About fifteen minutes have passed since we last left our characters. Joe Gage volunteered to take Smithers’ dead body outside. Straws were drawn to see who’d help him . . . O.B. lost. Chris, John Ruth, and Oswaldo had a vigorous debate about the legality of the self-defense murder that just transpired. Major Marquis Warren, who was supremely confident about the legality of what just transpired, ignored them, sat by himself at the table, and drank brandy.”
Major Marquis Warren: “So John Ruth’s trying to hang your woman, so you kill him. Okay, maybe. But O.B. wasn’t hangin’ nobody–”
Chris Mannix: “He damn sure wasn’t!”
Major Marquis Warren: “But he’s sure enough laying over there dead now, ain’t he?”
Chris Mannix: “He damn sure is, you sons-of-bitches!”
Major Marquis Warren: “Just like any one of us who would have drank that coffee–”
Chris Mannix: “Like me, goddamnit!”
Chris Mannix: “I ain’t saying we’re gonna make a deal with her. I’m just talking. Calm down.”
O.B.: “You goddamn sonofabitch! I almost died out there! I AIN’T EVER GOING OUT IN THAT SHIT EVER, EVER AGAIN!
The premise is great. The performances are good, too. But the script is sloppy and desperately needs editing, and let’s just say I wouldn’t exactly call this movie a feminist victory.
Nothing heals racism and turns enemies into friends like sharing the joy of hanging a woman.
Also: don’t drink the coffee.