Eight Little Indians, by Darrell Tuffs

27 Dec

hateful eight samuel l jackson

While viewing Tarantino’s eagerly awaited 8th feature film, The Hateful Eight, two conflicting opinions were passionately arguing within my brain. The first was telling me, “This film is absolutely beautiful; a real cinematic treat!” Indeed, as one might expect from Tarantino, The Hateful Eight is a gorgeously crisp film. Shot on celluloid, and set within a blizzard-ridden Wyoming, the film presents the typical mountain range landscapes associated with classics of the Western genre, yet the film is able to subvert these geographical tropes somewhat by flattening and smoothing out the frame of the film with deep glistening snow. To effect, this flattening of the landscape highlights the individual features of the characters within the film, allowing them as personalities to stand out from the scope of their environment. As a cinematic technique, this creates wonderfully dramatic images of faces, figures, costumes and human expressions. The film is able to maintain this grand scope of beauty throughout, making great use of its grainy-yet-classic filmic style.

The reason for opening my thoughts on the film by dwelling on its cinematic beauty is important to understanding my main problem with The Hateful Eight. You see, as mentioned above, the second opinion arguing for pole position in my brain was this, “Boy, this film would make a much better stage play.” On the one hand, I loved the imagery present within the film. I loved witnessing Tarantino’s quick kinetic editing, his dramatically slow western styled camera zooms, yet all I could think while watching the film play out was, “I’d much rather be watching this as part of a theatre audience.” As much as the controlled and chaotic cinematic beauty of the piece holds great significance, by its end, I can’t help but wonder what Tarantino could have made with a more cinematic story.

Without going into too much detail, the film focuses on eight strangers who, because of an awful snow blizzard, find themselves seeking refuge within the same lodge. Beforehand, two bounty hunters following the same mountain pass (played by Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell) decide to form a pack while transporting a valuable prisoner across the state towards the town of Red Rock. When the snow blizzard catches-up to them, the men retreat to Minnie’s Haberdashery, (a stagecoach lodge) with the others. These eight strangers are then, over time, subjected to secrets, lies and conflict as they betray and backstab their way out of the situation. This sounds interesting, a character-based drama, using largely one location, directed by one of modern cinema’s most critically acclaimed film directors. The problem is that, at a running time close to three hours… nothing much happens. I am not simply stating that I wanted to see more dramatic action in the film, I understand that this is a movie based almost entirely on character and establishing character motivation in preparation for a tense, climatic showdown. Yet, the plot points that propel our eight main characters towards these tense climaxes often feel shoehorned in, extending the film’s running time massively, while adding almost nothing to the film’s main story. On the stage, I don’t expect this would have been a huge problem; to witness a raw and intimate live performance of these characters would have been interesting and intriguing. However, there is something about Tarantino’s grandly ostentatious sense of filmmaking that belittles this intimacy, creating a film in which I was so glad to be witnessing as a work of visual cinema, all the while doubting its need to be as visually striking as it was.

Here is my main issue with The Hateful Eight; the film feels like Tarantino parodying himself. This feels like a film made and pre-packaged for Tarantino fans, there must be several moments of graphic bloodshed, there must be a time-looping storyline, there must be a centrepiece shouting rant from Samuel L. Jackson. Don’t get me wrong, I love all these things, and I’m a big Tarantino fan generally, but this film just didn’t surprise me in the way that Pulp Fiction did the first time I saw it. The Hateful Eight feels like it was made by someone who really loves Tarantino films, someone who loves the individual traits of his filmmaking legacy, yet can’t quite pull them all together enough to make a completely gratifying movie experience. Given the opportunity to watch lone clips of the film for cinematic purposes, my guess is that I’d enjoy them greatly, but for me, they are all puzzle pieces that do not completely fit together as a whole.

Looking at the film’s plot, which is described as a “mystery Western” there is never really any large amount of mystery to unravel. The tension in the film is instead found within the constantly shifting viewpoints of its main characters. The claustrophobic space within the film is filled with ever-transforming personalities and motivations, making for an extremely unnerving experience of, as a viewer, deciding whom to place your trust within on screen. This effect is interesting, creating the same paranoid sense of untruthfulness found within games such as Clue. However, this may also contribute to the main problem of the film; the atmosphere is fun to play, and tense to experience, but while coated in visual beauty and cinematic flair, the analytics of the game become second to a different kind of artistry. This does not mean that the film would have benefited from being dumber or less analytically established, but that a story such as this simply would have been better told either within a more natural and realistic tone, or on a bear-boned stage surrounded by theatre audiences on the edge of their seats. 

Other than this, the acting of the film is way above par for everyone involved; every performance elevates a great script to dramatic effect, creating, at times, genuinely entertaining moments fit to fully satisfy any casual Tarantino fan. There is also, of course, a few visually stunning scenes of dynamic movie violence, which is both painfully horrific and enjoyably entertaining by any film’s standards. For diehard fan of Tarantino, this film has everything you may want, all expertly and blissfully delivered into the palm of your hand. However, for anyone starting to feel the slight strain of Tarantino’s more usual filmmaking tropes, this may well be the point at which you begin to question your commitment to the great man. Placing all other criticisms aside, The Hateful Eight turns out to be a largely entertaining and fun movie experience, if not just a little too long by its end.           

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