Each new film from Quentin Tarantino is pretty much a guarantee of a certain level of quality. It is a very high level of quality, by the way. The man is one of the best working today. Not only does he have the skills necessary to continue making successful films, but Tarantino has one of the strongest understandings of cinema as a whole. The man loves watching/talking movies probably more than he does making them, and his love film comes through even more with each release.
At the beginning of his career, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, we see films that rely just as heavily on smart dialogue as they do on violence. Those first two films were set in the timeframes they were shot, they were quintessential 90’s movies. Since then, Tarantino has shown us his love of the cinema of old with each new release. Tarantino has explored and celebrated everything from Blaxploitation (Jackie Brown), Japanese/Action (Kill Bill), Grindhouse (Death Proof), WWII/Foreign filmmaking (Inglourious Basterds), Spaghetti Westerns (Django Unchained).
With The Hateful Eight, Tarantino resurrects the beauty of 70mm filmmaking to create another western-like film. This film, like his entire filmography, is so much more than just an homage to the films of old, it is a celebration of everything we love about movies through the lens of an old school western. This might just be the best film Tarantino has made, and I understand that is a tall order. The Hateful Eight is masterful in everything it attempts, a film that not only honors the cinema of the past, but displays how quality filmmaking featuring people talking for extensive amounts of time can be just as thrilling/enveloping as any film reliant on modern filmmaking conveniences.
The film tells the story of how eight seemingly strangers find themselves sharing a night together in a cabin during the middle of a Wyoming blizzard. John Ruth (The Hangman, Kurt Russell) is taking Daisy Domergue (The Prisoner, Jennifer Jason Leigh) to hang, as she has a $10,000 bounty on her head. This creates tension amongst the other characters in the cabin, as the cast features the who’s who of people you don’t want to spend an evening with. Samuel L. Jackson (The Bounty Hunter), Walton Goggins (The Sheriff), Demián Bichir (The Mexican), Tim Roth (The Hangman), Michael Madsen (The Cow Puncher), and Bruce Dern (The Confederate) make up the rest of the titular “hateful eight,” and everybody is bringing their A-game. The film is almost exclusively these eight characters talking to each other, and it is some of the best cinema ever made.
The film was committed to being made after Tarantino and the cast performed a live-reading of the script, and I can see why that venue convinced Tarantino to make the movie. The script works on its own as a great piece of writing. Tarantino has always been confident when it comes to writing smart character interacting with each other with extremely smart dialogue, and The Hateful Eight is no different. As you can tell from their individual names, each actor was able to bring a specific character to life, each of them having their own personality.
Though there is a lot of “hate” going on, the dialogue and interactions are smart and entertaining. The Hateful Eight is like what many consider to be Tarantino’s best scene, the opening to Ingourious Basterds, but stretched out to a feature length film. It’s true, the best individual scenes in Tarantino’s past work serve as the springboard for this film. The film ebbs and flows, using character interactions to build tension and bring the audience along for a ride. Yes, there is some “action,” and some guns are fired, but this by no means an action film, this is one of them old-fashioned “talking movies.”
Each scene is beautifully constructed, a conversation will start out innocent enough, but then character’s motivations and personalities start to come through and you get a lump in your throat. Because this is Tarantino, you know that at any moment the violence can interrupt, and the way some of these characters talk causes such tension in the audience as we know they shouldn’t be talking that way to that character.
Though there are eight hateful characters, and honorary hateful “ninth” should be Ennio Morricone. One of the most famous composers of all time, perhaps best known for his themes written for The Good The Bad and The Ugly, has returned to write his first original score for a western since 1981. The score is amazing and perfectly sets the tone for the film, there is a sense of dread through every piece of music. The beautiful cinematography, matched up with this brilliant score has made for one of the best pairings of director and composer in recent memory.
The way I see it, there are four things working together that make this film so good: the brilliant script, the actors bringing their best, Morricone’s score, and (as expected) Tarantino’s filmmaking. Not only does Tarantino continue his trend of beautifully made films, but he has used the lenses used on Ben-Hur and brought back 70mm film to make this a captivating theatrical experience. In the conversation of film vs. digital, Tarantino has made it clear, shooting on film, when done right, makes for the best looking movies out there. Whether it be a shot of a Colorado winter landscape, or just four people talking in the corner of a cabin, this film looks impeccable.
I was able to see The Hateful Eight as part of the “Roadshow” experience. The film was projected on 70mm, which meant there was a projectionist who had to make sure our individual showing was in focus and had good sound. There was an overture, letting us settle down into the world of the film by listening to Morricone’s main musical theme. There was an intermission, which was used perfectly for this film. I won’t spoil where the intermission is utilized, but I will say this, while everyone was standing in line to get refills on their popcorn, we just stood silent as we reflected on the cinematic journey we were all experiencing.
The more I think about The Hateful Eight, the more I love it. Like the best 3D movies today (I say that almost sarcastically), Tarantino has truly delivered an experience. The 70mm cinematography begs you to explore every inch of the frame, the music brings you to the edge of your seat, the writing/acting is top notch, everything about this film is on point. Whether laughing at the western-influenced vulgarity, hiding our eyes at some truly horrific scenes, or aweing at the beauty of the photography, The Hateful Eight is one of the best films of the year, and I hope we see more like it in the years to come.