During a Wyoming blizzard, a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) find themselves stranded in a cabin with an assortment of questionable characters in writer/director Quentin Tarantino's new western.
Fritz: Love his films or hate them, Quentin Tarantino is not a timid filmmaker. And that statement remains true with his latest, The Hateful Eight (which we both saw in the limited Ultra Panavision 70mm "Roadshow" format at AMC Elmwood before it opened wide on New Year's Day). So, what were your initial thoughts leaving the film?
Dave: I thought it was amusing that Tarantino makes a widescreen, three-hour-plus film - elements that are reserved for grand epics - that is mostly set in a cabin and ends in a gory blood bath. It's precocious but it comes off like an engrossing stage play. I enjoyed it even if Tarantino is kind of playing a joke on us. What did you think?
Fritz: I thought it played like what would have happened if Agatha Christie had gone completely insane while writing Ten Little Indians. Overall, it held my interest over its three-hour run-time even if it lagged a bit at times and the aggressive cruelty of its characters could be off-putting. That said, the Ultra Panavision format pays off. The early scenes outdoors look stunning and the deep focus it allows makes many of the indoor scenes more interesting than they might've been in standard digital. Plus, it's always a pleasure to hear a new score from Ennio Morricone.
Regarding the cruelty, Tarantino's characters often aren't heroic, but for some reason the nastiness stood out to me more here. Even the film's de facto hero (Samuel L. Jackson) tells a story about halfway through that reveals a spectacular mean streak (granted, it manifests itself against a man who was trying to kill him, but it's um...well...you'll know what I mean when you see it). How did you feel about it?
David: The film definitely has an identity crisis. On one hand, Tarantino is making a comment on race relations and the final scene is rather poignant. On the other hand, the giddy violence undercuts the serious message he's trying to get across. And yes, I agree with you about the scene you are referring to. It does come off as too cruel, as does the scene where, again, a despicable character is being slowly murdered by two other characters who are relishing it.
But yes, the outdoor scenes in Ultra Panavision are glorious. And the music by the great Ennio Morricone is excellent. This is the first time Tarantino actual had an original score written for one of his films. He usually peppers his movies with preexisting music, and he actually does that here as well. Morricone had a tight schedule for composing and recording this score, so to fill out scenes needing music, Tarantino decided to put in some unused tracks that Morricone recorded for John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing. That's kind of fitting since The Hateful Eight and The Thing have thematic similarities of isolation and mistrust. Morricone's music from The Exorcist II: The Heretic can also be heard in one stagecoach scene.
Fritz: I thought about the The Thing while watching it - the isolation and mistrust themes, Morricone's score, Kurt Russell in a major role, and a late scene that I won't reveal because it might spoil a bit too much about the ending for those who haven't seen it.
I agree with you about the ending, though. A frequent complaint people make about Tarantino is similar to one they made about Hitchcock: that he's a brilliant tactician, but his movies are never "about" anything. The final scene of this film is the closest he's ever come to making a statement about humanity, justice, and politics in one of his movies. But it's surrounded by a ton of nastiness in that final act.
The cast does typically strong work. Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson remain cinematic soulmates, bringing out the best in each other. One small supporting role is played by the legendary stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who was the lone bright spot in Tarantino's worst film, Death Proof. Seeing her in that and this makes me wish she got more acting gigs. She's a naturally engaging screen presence, but Tarantino seems to be the only major director willing to give her a speaking role.
David: I agree with you about Zoe Bell. She certainly is more than capable as an actress, not to mention easy on the eyes, and other filmmakers should consider her for major roles. The performances are uniformly good in Hateful Eight but the stand out for me is character actor Walton Goggins as a man claiming to be a newly appointed sheriff.
Even though The Hateful Eight is uneven, it is still incredibly effective and an essential film going experience.