2015 | Quentin Tarantino
Underneath his growing urge to further his characterisation of himself, Quentin Tarantino remains a powerful storyteller. His understanding of language, both visual and written, combined with an unrivalled enthusiasm for film and cinema, evokes a resonance not felt with any of his contemporaries. While his two most recent films in The Hateful Eight and Django Unchained showcase his love of, and willingness to make, amazingly violent spaghetti westerns, he still understands what makes the greatest connection with an audience: his characters.
A film like Pulp Fiction, revolutionary in its time, revels in the fact that it has no discernible plot or story. The characters are the story. Tarantino has executed storytelling through his characters like no other contemporary auteur. Even with the distraction of exceedingly troped-up genre films, such as Kill Bill, Death Proof, (kinda) Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and now, The Hateful Eight, his characters are still the heart and soul of his films. On the surface his films have become more about his love of film and less about the characters in the film, but he’s just such an adept storyteller it’s impossible for him to completely stray from what makes his films great.
To Tarantino, his latest film is about his experience seeing The Thing for the first time. So, to him, it’s a film about film. And while he does (and always has) make his cinematic tributes incredibly obvious to see, he also understands, very clearly, what gives art its resonance and for all its bombast, The Hateful Eight never strays far from its beating heart. All eight (technically, nine) of them.
Needless to say, the cast is stellar, even the surprising choices. Tarantino isn’t one for choosing an actor whom he doesn’t believe can execute the part (in the case of Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, he was the one convincing them they were the right choice) and he doesn’t miss a beat this time around, either. Samuel L. Jackson is Major Marquis Warren, aka “The Bounty Hunter”. He hitches a ride with John Ruth aka “The Hangman” (Kurt Russell) as he transports his bounty, Daisy Domergue aka “The Prisoner” (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the fictional town of Red Rock. Along the way they pick up Chris Mannix, aka “The Sheriff” (Walton Goggins), on his way to be sworn in as the new sheriff of Red Rock.
Stuck in a blizzard, the foursome stop over at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach lodge, locked in with four other men seeking shelter, all coincidentally on their way to, or through, Red Rock. First off is Bob, aka “The Mexican” (Demián Bichir), the Mexican caretaker of the the lodge while its owners, Minnie and Sweet Dave, are off visiting Minnie’s mother, a story which seems unlikely to Major Warren. There’s also the incredibly-named Oswaldo Mobury, aka “The Little Man” (Tim Roth) aka the new Hangman of Red Rock. In the corner, writing about the only thing he’s qualified to write about: his life, is Joe Gage “aka The Cow Puncher” (Michael Madsen) and in the centre of the room, a seemingly-almost harmless old man, revealed to be Confederate General Sanford Smithers, “aka The Confederate.” Concerned about the safety of his bounty, Ruth takes precautions to ensure she will arrive at Red Rock in one piece, so the hangman can perform his lawful duty.
The film’s tension lies with its characters’ distrust of one another. A bunch of people, locked in a room with questionable loyalties. This definitely sounds like a Tarantino film. It looks like one too. Famously shot on 70mm film, Robert Richardson’s cinematography is Oscar-worthy. Wide-angle landscapes, less-than-subtle Chris imagery and the artifice of the stock all lend themselves to the isolated, snowy wilds these characters have traversed, and subsequently stuck themselves in. Ennio Morricone’s score, his first in 35 years, elevates the film beyond a visual experience – another check for Tarantino. He knows who and what he needs to make his films.
An aural spectacular, it all comes wonderfully crashing together in an incredibly bloody and violent climax; expected due to the name of its director, but to first-timers, maybe less so. One of Tarantino’s great strengths though, is reminding his audience of things he’s made obvious and then hidden in the start of the film, such as members of the cast, or phrases uttered by his characters. The Hateful Eight is an exemplary example of this; catching the viewer by surprise on many occasions, as we wrap ourselves up in the world of the characters and our own expectations of Tarantino’s bag of tricks.
While it could be fairly easy to write The Hateful Eight off as one of Tarantino’s weaker efforts, it would be hard to say the film is anything less than great. As he steps further and further away from his low-budget character pieces and more into his self-indulgence, his films tend to lose focus, albeit briefly. The Hateful Eight was never going to be another Pulp Fiction, nor was it ever going to be another Django Unchained. Tarantino wouldn’t, and didn’t, want it that way. But the result we get is still fantastic. My only wish is that it wasn’t his penultimate film.