Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Films of Quentin Tarantino: The Hateful Eight (2015)

The Hateful Eight (2015)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino   
Written by: Quentin Tarantino.
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson (Major Marquis Warren), Kurt Russell (John Ruth), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Daisy Domergue), Walton Goggins (Sheriff Chris Mannix), Demián Bichir (Bob), Tim Roth (Oswaldo Mobray), Michael Madsen (Joe Gage), Bruce Dern (General Sandy Smithers), James Parks (O.B Jackson), Dana Gourrier (Minnie Mink), Zoë Bell (Six-Horse Judy), Lee Horsley (Ed), Gene Jones (Sweet Dave), Keith Jefferson (Charly), Craig Stark (Chester Charles Smithers), Belinda Owino (Gemma), Channing Tatum (Jody)
Watching The Hateful Eight again – for the first time since it came out in 2015 – I couldn’t help but wonder if this was Tarantino’s way of becoming an internet troll. I don’t say mean that in a bad way, because the film is still brilliantly written, directed and acted, but because I kind of think that this was Tarantino’s way of attacking back on all the things said about him. That his films are racist or misogynistic or homophobic, and instead turns it back on America itself – basically arguing (not incorrectly) that those very things are ingrained in very fabric of America. But he does it all in a way that doesn’t hold your hand in that argument – instead of just places all these, well, Hateful, people together in a room and lets them loose. If you’re uncomfortable, is that discomfort with the film, or with America? You decide.
On the surface level, The Hateful Eight is a Western take on one of those closed door, Agatha Christie mysteries. It is basically 9 people (poor O.B. – he isn’t hateful, but in that room, he doesn’t stand a chance) who are trapped by a snowstorm. There is a black bounty hunter and Civil War Veteran Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) with three dead bodies that he wants to turn in for the bounty. Another bounty hunter – John Ruth (Kurt Russell) with his latest capture – Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) – also trying to make his way to town to collect the bounty. The new Sheriff of that not far off town – and the son of Marauder, those Southerners who couldn’t except the result of the war Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) on his way to start his new job. There is Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir) – who has apparently been left in charge of Minnie’s Haberdashery with the owner away. An aging Confederate General looking for information on his dead son, Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). And a couple of mysterious strangers – Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) – apparently a hangman and Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) – who is there for, well, who really knows. They all have secrets and ulterior motives that will only slowly be revealed – and then the bloodbath will commence.
The film, even more than most Tarantino films, is almost all dialogue. The film traps us with these people who should never be in the same room together in that room together, and won’t let them go. If you’re paying attention, you’ll be uncomfortable even before you get to that room. The violent way Ruth deals with Daisy – he punches her, elbows her in the face, and generally berates her with a lot of sexist language. But it’s not like Daisy is an innocent – she’s an out-and-out racist, who goes out of her way to provoke the hatred of everyone around her. Mannix is a more “respectable” racist – in that while he’s racist, he can be civil to Marquis. And you find out pretty early on just how many people Marquis has killed – and how – which doesn’t make him look good.
And then, for nearly three hours, Tarantino lets them bounce off each other. They argue, bicker, provoke, fight, etc. the entire time. Everyone is trying to suss out everyone else’s motives – and not getting very far. If Marquis is our hero – he’s a flawed one. He certainly has a reason to hate General Smithers – but his long, homophobic tirade just to provoke a response so that he can kill him maybe taking it too far. John Ruth – obviously styled on John Wayne – may have a reason to bring Daisy is – but that doesn’t mean he’s not a violent misogynist anyway.
There was a lot of debate when the film came out if it was racist, or depicted racism. If it was misogynistic or depicted misogyny. If it was homophobic, or depicted homophobia. I think, taken as a film onto itself, The Hateful Eight comes out on the right side of those issues. It makes sense that in the years after the Civil War that racism would be this open, this rampant and widespread among white people – and that most of them would use the word nigger without a second though. And, for the most part, I think Tarantino’s other movies which uses the word as frequently also make sense unto themselves. But at a certain point, I do think you have to wonder if Tarantino just likes the word, and finds “legitimate” reasons to use it in all of his movies. I’ve never bought the misogyny charges against Tarantino – and don’t here either. He has long since loved strong female characters – in every sense of the word – and while Daisy is despicable, she is that as well. And the ultimate message of the film – that’s men’s hatred of women will ultimately outweigh the racism they feel towards each other could be construed (if you’re feeling generous) as a feminist message. As for the homophobia – I think it’s valid to point out that Marquis’ rant is meant to provoke a homophobic response in Smithers – and isn’t itself homophobic. But I also think it’s fair to point out that’s it’s a fairly cheap gambit – and beneath a writer of Tarantino’s talents.
Ultimately, I think it’s fair to say that I have more reservations about The Hateful Eight than any other Tarantino directed film. And yet, I also have to say that the film is brilliant in many ways. The performances are all top notch – in particular Jackson, Russell and Leigh, with only one guy miscast (I won’t spoil it if you don’t know – but he’s the guy who shows up late). And it’s entertaining as hell. I think Fred Raskin does a better job editing this than he did Django Unchained. The 70MM cinematography by Robert Richardson is as good as anything he has ever done – and the great Ennio Morricone deserved the Best Score Oscar he won for his work here, even if it doesn’t seem like he particularly likes Tarantino. It says something that even if this is perhaps the weakest feature of Tarantino’s career – it’s still pretty damn great.

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