I’ve mentioned before on this site that I really love Quentin Tarantino. I adore all of his movies, even Death Proof, and he’s just one of the most consistently enjoyable directors out there for me. I find him and his movies endlessly fascinating, and they are all building to create a wonderfully eccentric and odd filmography. So of course I’ve been psyched for the Hateful Eight. I would be excited for any Tarantino movie, but this whole thing sounded so intriguing to me. Tarantino has found himself creating an era of his work that’s based on historical events. We had a WWII action movie with Inglorious Basterds, a bonkers Western set in the South with Django Unchained, and now another Western, but one that also breaks the mold with the Hateful Eight. There was a lot about this movie that I didn’t know going in, mainly because I’ve avoided most everything about it that I could. I remember a couple years ago there was all that drama about Tarantino releasing the script to some potential actors, and one of them leaking it online, which pissed Tarantino off like crazy. He started to say that he wouldn’t make the movie, and would maybe adapt it to be a novel, but I was always pretty sure that he wasn’t gong to stick to this, and end up releasing it as a movie anyway, so I stayed the hell away from that leaked script, not wanting to hear anything about it. And lo and behold, here we are in 2015, and he’s released his movie. And not only do we get a Tarantino movie, but I went to that crazy Roadshow thing he put on, which is where you actually get to see it in 70mm, projected in a theater, along with an overture, an intermission, and a fancy program. Of course I was going to do my best to make it to one of these screenings, even though we were getting a lot of reports that the Roadshow was becoming a bit of a shit-show, and full of issues around the country. So I made my way to a Regal theater that’s just down the street from me that was showing it, and I got to check out what this movie really was.
And in a word? Great. It was great. Not at all what I was expecting, but super great. I went into the movie thinking that it was essentially going to be a Western version of And Then There Were None. The trailer established that it was going to be about a series of crazy Western characters being stuck in the same building together while a blizzard traps them inside, and I kind of inferred that they would slowly start to be picked off, by some murderer. And, I suppose that’s kind of what the story was, but not really. I was actually unlike anything I’ve ever really seen before, besides what get called “Bottle Episodes,” of TV shows. That term has gotten more traction in popular culture, but just in case, it’s basically an episode of a show where they characters stay in one location and yell at each other. Like when Community stayed in the study room to find a pen, or when Seinfeld got stuck in a parking garage. It’s a story where people are crammed together, and get all of their aggression out at each other in a big burst of cabin fever anger. It usually is only used for TV shows, because it’s usually an excuse to air some dirty laundry that the characters have been ignoring, or just call out some frustrations that the previous episodes have been building to. And, at least as I’m typing this, I can’t think of a movie that took this structure and made it work. I suppose the movie from 2013 called Locke that was just Tom Hardy driving in a car, calling people on his cell phone and talking about dramatic things kind of counts, but that’s a little odd. This was a movie that was literally nine people, (yeah, it’s weird, they just totally don’t count one integral character in the 8) and one secret one under the floorboards, stuck in a cabin for a while together as we realize that they’re all terrible people with some personal issues with each other.
The movie is set in Wyoming during the winter of some year after the Civil War. If they gave a specific year, I don’t remember it and I couldn’t find it, but I feel like it has to be several years after the War, just due to the ages of the characters, and it starts off by introducing us to the first three characters, and the poor Stagecoach driver O.B. that doesn’t get to count as one of the Eight. We have Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson) a former Union cavalry major who is now a famous bounty hunter, John “the Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell, who is the man) who is also a bounty hunter, but one that’s well-known for taking people in alive so that he can see them hang, and Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) a wanted criminal and gang-member who is handcuffed to Ruth and being taken to the nearby town of Red Rock to hang. Ruth has hired O.B. to take him on a private ride to Red Rock, and while travelling through the snowy mountain, they come across Major Warren whose horse died in the blizzard, stranding him on the mountain. After some harsh words because Ruth assumes Warren is trying to steal his bounty, the two decide to travel together, and they head off to a place called Minnie’s Haberdashery, a general store that’s half-way to Red Rock. Warren and Ruth bond over their profession and mutual respect for each other while Domergue cements herself as a dumb, racist hillbilly who Ruth keeps punching. We’re also introduced to the idea that Warren has a letter from Abraham Lincoln that’s his prized possession. And before the coach gets to Minnie’s, they run into another person stuck out in the snow, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) an abrasive racist who fought for the Confederacy during the War, and is now apparently the new sheriff of Red Rock. They’re suspicious of Mannix too, but Ruth ends up letting him share the coach as well as they continue on to Minnie’s. The remainder of the coach-ride is basically just Mannix being atrociously racist, and making comments that are incredibly prescient and pointed to modern law enforcement (“when niggers are scared, white folks feel safe.”). And after that tense coach-ride, they finally get to Minnie’s, and things get crazy.
When they pull up they’re met by Bob (Demian Bichir), a Mexican man who says that he works for Minnie, who left with her husband to visit her mother on the other side of the mountain. Bob takes care of the coach and lets the gang get into the Haberdashery, whose door is broken and required people to nail the door shut. The characters come in, while Major Warren is incredibly suspicious of everything around him, and we’re introduced to the rest of the characters. There’s Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) an eccentric British man who claims to be the hangman of Red Rock, Joe Gage (Michael Madson) a quiet cowboy who is coming to visit his mother on Christmas, and General Smithers (Bruce Dern) a Confederate General who is here to hold a symbolic funeral ceremony for his missing son. The characters all realize that they’re going to be stuck in his Haberdashery for a couple days, and everyone is instantly irritated with each other. The thing that really surprised me about this movie is that, really, there’s no real protagonist. Everyone is horrible. They’re all objectionable human beings, and even when one of them does something good or redeeming, you remember that they’re also racist, misogynistic monsters. And then the rest of the movie is basically eight “hateful” people, and the poor stagecoach driver, trapped in a single room building together as they slowly go crazy. Everyone is incredibly suspicious of each other, and they all clearly have ulterior motives that we aren’t sure of. Pretty much no one gets along, and basically none of them trust each other.
The plot at this point is actually surprisingly simple. The characters sit around, getting to know each other, as they try to feel each other out and see if they can trust one another. And the answer to that question quickly becomes “no.” Ruth even realizes he can’t trust Major Warren when it turns out that his Abraham Lincoln letter, which Ruth thinks is the coolest thing in the world, is fake and just used to make white people happy. So everyone sits around, getting mad at each other and eating stew until we get to our first murder. Major Warren finds out that General Smithers was involved in some terrible war-crimes against black Union soldiers, and he decides to torture the man by telling him that he killed his son. Apparently there was a huge bounty out on Major Warren’s head, put there by the Confederacy, and Smithers’ son went to try and kill Warren, which didn’t work. Warren the tells a ridiculous story, which may or may not be true, of him making Smithers’ son wander in the snow, naked, before making him perform oral sex. This pisses Smithers off enough to grab his gun and point it at Warren, who quickly kills the old man.
And now that the first murder is out of the way, things start escalating quickly. We learn that while the crazy story was being told, someone slipped some poison into the coffee that everyone was sharing, and once they get rid of General Smithers’ body, we see O.B. the driver and John Ruth drink the coffee. Now, I kind of assumed that John Ruth was our protagonist at this point, and was incredibly surprised to see him start vomiting blood along with O.B. before finally dying. This freaks everyone out, and Major Warren basically becomes Sherlock Holmes for a while, piecing everything together. He decides that Mannix is on the level, because he too almost drank the coffee, and figures that either Joe Gage, Bob, or Oswaldo is a killer in league with Domergue. He starts to do some deduction that ends with the fact that Minnie hated Mexicans, and would never have left one in charge, claiming that Bob is a liar and killed Minnie. Warren then kills Bob, and before dealing with Gage and Oswaldo, Warren is shot through the floorboards by a secret person that we didn’t know was down there. We’re then treated to a flashback that explains what happened before the coach we saw arrived. Turns out Joe Gage, Bob, and Oswaldo are actually members of the same gang as Domergue, and they’re at Minnie’s to jump Ruth and free her, along with her brother Jody (a surprisingly enjoyable Channing Tatum). The four show up at Minnie’s, kill everyone inside except General Smithers, who actually wasn’t involved with any of this, and get ready to ambush Ruth. Unfortunately they didn’t count on the blizzard, or Warren and Mannix being there, and it just completely screwed up their plan. So the movie is ready to end, and pretty much everyone is mortally wounded. Warren has been shot in the crotch, Mannix got a bullet in the leg, Bob is dead, and Oswaldo got a gut shot (Reservoir Dogs reference?) while Domergue is still chained to the dead body of John Ruth, and Jody is trapped in the basement. Mannix and Warren team up, and make Jody come out of the basement, before shooting him in the head. The characters then start talking, while Joe and Daisy try to convince Mannix to kill Warren and they’ll all just get out of the Haberdashery and pretend nothing happened. But Mannix surprisingly shows some honor, and ends up killing Gage and helping Warren honor John Ruth by hanging Daisy Domergue. The two then lay among the corpse-strewn room while laughing about Warren’s fake Abraham Lincoln letter, and the movie ends with them surely bleeding or freezing to death as well.
This movie was so interesting. I went in assuming I was going to get a crazy Western murder/mystery, and instead got this character study featuring representatives of the worst types of people in America. None of these characters, besides maybe poor O.B., are good people. John Ruth is a terrible misogynist who keeps punching Daisy and wrathfully calling her a bitch, Daisy is some murdering racist lunatic, Mannix is a power-hungry racist, Bob, Joe, and Oswaldo are all lying murderers, General Smithers was a horrible racist who committed war crimes, and even Major Warren baits an old man into a duel he can’t possibly win. Major Warren was maybe the closest thing to a good guy, but like I said, he still basically killed an unarmed old man for no real reason other than spite. It’s a fascinating movie, with a lot on it’s mind, and was actually much more subtle than most Tarantino movies. Yeah, it had a lot of his typical over-the-top violence and amped up performances, but it was also much more subdued than any other Tarantino movie I can think of, besides maybe Jackie Brown. There was a lot of mood in the movie, and in the end, I feel like the theme of the movie was the idea that America never really got over the Civil War. We’re still incredibly divided, and there’s still deeply ingrained racial issues that are plaguing our culture, and it was interesting to see these terrible people dealing with it’s foundation. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are parts of the country that people would see these characters are heroes, and that’s maybe the most horrifying part of the movie. It’s the darkest corners of American culture, brought out into the light and forced to spend time together in some sort of wretched-human cock-fight.
The last thing I want to talk about is just how “in-jokey” this movie got in places. I really love the fact that Tarantino has kind of created his own universe, where all his movies take place in the same off-kilter world, and this movie was no exception. Yeah, there was some obvious stuff, like Red Apple cigarettes apparently being a couple hundred year old company, but there was some other, more subtle things. I already mentioned Tim Roth getting shot in the gut again, but there was another place where a character said that “a bastard’s work is never done,” which is from Inglorious Basterds, and there were a couple other things that I sadly should have written down. I feel like this movie is probably littered with references, and will probably have a truly wonderful director’s commentary. It kind of is similar to Star Wars: the Force Awakens in the way that it shows little references and rhymes between the films. Although I really wish that Joe Gage turned out to be some horrible ancestor of the Vega brothers. It’s ridiculous how much work Tarantino puts into his movies, the meticulous detail and little references, but hey, “No one said this job’s supposed to be easy.”
The Hateful Eight was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and released by The Weinstein Company, 2015.
Categories: Reel Talk