Deadshirters Dom Griffin and Max Robinson discuss Quentin Tarantino’s latest, the claustrophobic and bloodsoaked The Hateful Eight. Spoilers below.
Max: So Dom and I went to a Christmas Day screening of the The Hateful Eight “roadshow.” As evidenced with stuff like Grindhouse, Tarantino is a huge stickler for presentation, and I gotta say this was a really cool way to screen the film. It’s a 70mm print of the film, there’s an overture, there’s an (amazingly timed) intermission, and you get a physical paper program as a souvenir. This is a deluxe, packaged experience.
Dom: “Experience” is really the perfect word. Tarantino, beyond being simply a filmmaker, is an individual who understands the versatile nature of moviegoing, having worked at a video store in his youth and currently owning the New Beverly repertory theater. The Roadshow cut of Hateful Eight is specifically curated for someone who not only wants to watch a Quentin Tarantino film, but has looked at the three hour runtime and sprinted gleefully towards the box office. As such, it doesn’t bother to take the kind of care one might in dealing with longform material. He doesn’t have to really romance you through the narrative. He’s already got you into bed.
Max: The Hateful Eight in general really feels like a Tarantino fan’s Tarantino film but (and you mentioned this earlier), it’s interesting how everything about the Roadshow is designed for maximum audience comfort, while the film itself is maybe the most cynical and unpleasant flick he’s ever made.
Dom: Yeah, as much as a three-hour-long whodunit set in the West feels like a wet dream for Tarantino nerds, there’s something particularly vulgar about this film that’s hard to ignore. It’s a thrilling narrative, and every turn along the way is deliciously employed, but that indelible sense of enthusiasm his work usually brings is absent. The violence, the clever dialogue. It’s all there, but it doesn’t feel designed to crescendo in a crowd-pleasing moment of catharsis. Starting with Kill Bill onward, every QT movie ends with a satisfying finish. We’re given what we want and almost exactly the way we want it.
Here, Tarantino seems somewhat furious with his characters and the people sitting in the stands who can’t wait to lap up their exploits. Instead of a rousing tale, luxuriated in around a campfire, it’s a screed spat through gritted teeth.
Max: Hateful Eight is also pretty interesting in that it was originally put on as a scripted staged reading, so it’s the only Tarantino movie without any notable locations besides the snow-shagged Wyoming countryside and the inside of Minnie’s Haberdashery. Tarantino made a three hour, ten actor ensemble movie set in a fucking shack. That’s wild.
Dom: Exactly. He set up something pretty self contained and, one would think, pretty simple, and then chose to shoot it in 70mm with a score from Ennio Morricone. The set-up itself is straightforward: John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter transporting a prisoner by the name of Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to be hanged. Along the way to the town of Red Rock, they encounter a snowstorm and a pair of men also trying to hide from the cold. Major Marques Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is also a bounty hunter trying to ferry three dead bodies to the town, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) claims he’s the new sheriff of said town.
These four wind up inside Minnie’s Haberdashery with the other half of the title’s eight players. There’s Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), and Bob (Demian Bichir) who is running the place while Minnie is away. John Ruth is convinced someone (or someones) in the party isn’t who they say they are, and because this movie has to go the distance, he’s not wrong. We’re trapped, here at the ass end of Wyoming, in the coldest blizzard depicted in cinema in years, with a bunch of fucking scoundrels and a $10,000 bounty.
Max: Tarantino put together like the best possible group of characters here with this ensemble. Samuel L. Jackson has done like five movies with Tarantino, and Marquis Warren as a character doesn’t feel like a retread of old ground they’ve covered. It would’ve been easy to make him a carbon copy of Jamie Foxx’s Django or a sadistic scumbag like Ordell. Warren’s fucking COMPLICATED.
Dom: SLJ has been the heavyweight champion of the extended Tarantino ensemble for some time, but if we want to talk amazing performances, Walton Goggins goes toe to toe with him as Chris Mannix, stealing so many moments out from under his compatriots. Goggins has been fucking teflon for awhile, but this is his real coming out party. He’s the one person in this movie who legitimately surprised me. The other elements all bring pretty much what you expect them to bring. Madsen with his guttural smugness and Tim Roth’s twee flavoring are both fully formed aspects of the Tarantino Repertory Company at this point, but Goggins is the wild card.
Max: I’ve long been an admirer of Goggins’s criminally underappreciated work as Boyd Crowder (the best TV villain of the last decade), and seeing him FINALLY get a substantial film role to chew on was a blast. Goggins plays Mannix like the stupid guy who just walked into the theater playing Hateful Eight, which is hilarious on its own, but then he surprises you with these flashes of competence. Mannix is the only one to sniff out the Lincoln letter, and he’s smart enough not to fall for Daisy’s bullshit.
Dom: Kurt Russell is a lot of fun here, as well, especially as that little John Wayne lilt in his delivery pops out at just the right moments. They really make this feel like a lived-in Western and not just a thirsty cinephile’s indulgent homage-a-thon.
Max: I kinda felt like Russell plays John Ruth as like a super shitty version of Jack Burton? It’s the dark side of that sort of bravado which is charming in Big Trouble In Little China, but here Ruth’s a blowhard who beats a captive prisoner for pissing him off and whose nonsense “code of honor” gets him and like a bunch of other people killed. But then also, he’s this weird paternal cornball who gives Daisy coffee and cleans food off her face even though he hates her guts?
Dom: He has this misguided sense of morality that is about as infuriating as it is strangely endearing. Compared to the rest of the cast, he’s downright naive in his beliefs. He feels like your uncle who really makes a lot of sense in bursts, but once you spend a long time with him around other people, these little cracks come out.
Max: So the reason we go to Tarantino movies is 1) fucked up people having fucked up conversations, and 2) amazing actors gushing gallons of fake blood. The first half of Hateful Eight is number one, the second half almost entirely number two. Can we talk about how well shot this flick is? I don’t think I’ve ever seen snow look this good in a movie. There’s a moment while Ruth, Daisy, and Warren are in the carriage on their way to Red Rock when the snow is blinding you. We got a little of this in Django Unchained, but Tarantino’s decision to set a messy, violent locked door mystery against a vast, unblemished snowscape was really choice.
Dom: I feel like Tarantino constantly threatening to retire after his tenth film is such a tragedy, because he legitimately gets smarter and stronger as a visual stylist with every new film out of the gate. His ongoing collaboration with cinematographer Robert Richardson continues to pay dividends here, as the two capture the landscape surrounding Minnie’s with such intensity. Those shots of the wind blowing as Mannix draws a line from the stable to the shitter imply a level of freezing cold that no unbroken take in The Revenant can begin to compete with. Tarantino sells “winter” here the way David Lean sold “desert.”
Also, there’s this sense that shooting a movie this intimate and closed off on 70mm is a mistake, but that’s so stupid. When PTA did it with The Master people were equally baffled, but giving the frame so much space makes those close-ups in taut confrontations feel so extra real. The way Tarantino stages in depth and uses rack focus to switch between subjects instead of cutting back and forth feels like a much more functional throwback than his usual cinematic allusions, but it works so well.
Max: So Tarantino very deliberately homages John Carpenter’s The Thing A LOT here: the aforementioned stakes/line from the stable to the inn, the snow setting, the ending, even the choice to bring in Kurt Russell and Morricone. But the most important carryover is how the character relationships in this just completely explode over three hours. It’s like character actor dominos.
Character interactions in this are so tightly wound and precise: Warren and Ruth bond over Warren’s apparently famous letter from President Lincoln in Act I. In Act II, when we find out the letter is Warren’s counterfeit means of putting white people at ease around him, Russell plays the scene with so many visible emotions: his incredulity boils into anger and then retreats into genuine hurt. Same with Daisy, otherwise a vile racist and career murderer, getting a quiet moment to play the guitar on what she knows may be her last day alive. Everyone in Hateful Eight is a bastard, but even cold hearted bastards like John Ruth and Daisy Domergue are human beings at the end of the day.
Dom: There’s a load of little moments like John Ruth’s hurt, especially one for the otherwise irredeemable Daisey Domergue that I really, really like. I’m glad you brought up the letter, actually, because that letter being fake is honestly the most important element of this film. When this script prematurely leaked back in 2013, before Tarantino did that staged reading, the letter was present in the story, but it was never revealed to be a forgery. I’m more than a little bit obsessed with Tarantino’s process, so I’m pretty sure that revision was the lightning rod the entire new ending was built around. I wish I could have been in the room for that epiphany, because it’s the exact moment this turns from a mere exercise in pulp theatrics to become a truly biting indictment of the myth of post-racial America.
The end of the Civil War, like the Obama inauguration, promised a level of socioeconomic change that, Hateful Eight posits, might be impossible in a nation as birthed in blood and vitriol as our own. The explosive climax of this movie is the product of an intricate series of turns occurring at exactly the right moments, but it’s the underlying disgust that forms along tribal dividing lines that greases the wheels.
Max: What’s funny is, Tarantino kinda has his cake and eats it too. Like, there’s something really darkly funny in the fact that Sam Jackson’s Marquis Warren (a legendary enemy of the Confederacy) and Goggins’s Chris Mannix (a Confederate true believer who treats Bruce Dern’s General Smithers like he’s Stan Lee signing autographs at racist shithead comic con) are the only two men left standing, and they even seem to come to respect each other. It’s like Enemy Mine if Enemy Mine ended with a dying woman with shattered front teeth getting straight up lynched by an also dying Dennis Quaid and Lou Gossett.
Dom: That’s part of why I love it. Both Basterds and Django give you these great, comforting closing moments, and this kinda makes you feel shitty about how much you wanted this ending. I’m not sure how complicit the average audience member will feel about the finale, but this pervasive sense of dread took up space in my belly as I realized how it was going to end and how frustrated I was for feeling so amped for it.
Max: I was talking to [Deadshirter] David Uzumeri about it and he was like “…was the ending message that the only thing that’ll bring black men and white men together is celebrating the death of a woman?” And like, it’s that Inglourious Basterds thing where you’re like “oh man, should I feel good about this?”
Dom: As perfect as the film’s closing moments are, the journey there is a long one. After my second viewing, I still love the movie just as much, but there’s no getting around that three hours is excessive. I can’t quite call it “too much of a good thing” because what’s good is great, but since the passing of his longtime editor Sally Menke, Tarantino’s films have had a curious pacing that, while not exactly bad, err on the wrong side of lengthy.
The only reason I can find for this film to be this long is that Tarantino was having a blast and realizes that at this point in his career, his following is strong enough that he has no quantifiable reason to dilute his personal brand. If he wants to spend three hours with these characters, chances are, a fair number of his fans will, too. The early grosses on the roadshow rollout prove he’s right, even if deciding not to trim the fat holds the finished product back from converting a wider swath of moviegoers.
Max: I’m a staunch defender of long movies as long as I’m not checking my watch, and I was basically enthralled by this thing from jump street. It’s definitely an excessive film, at least the roadshow cut is. Tarantino literally reading stage direction to us when we come back from the intermission was sort of cute, but totally unnecessary and jarring. I’m interested to see what scenes are ditched for the regular theatrical cut because I don’t know what you could lose?
Dom: The older I get and the more movies I watch, I always think there’s more room for cutting, but with Hateful Eight it’s hard to care too much about the running time when every minute of screen time has worth. It’s the buffet approach, with as much witty repartee, bullet wounds, and snarled epithets as you can heap onto the plate. It’s as much a testament to Tarantino’s powers, both as a dramatist and a curator of film technique, as it is to the game cast he’s gathered together. The Weinsteins spent a stupid amount of money retrofitting cinemas to play this in the desired format, so if some lucky movie house near your home is playing the Roadshow, seek it out. Protip: definitely pee during the intermission. There’s enough time.