If “Hateful Eight” were Quentin Tarantino’s final film, that would be alright. Not because it’s his best film yet, none able to surpass it. In fact it really isn’t his best movie. However, he has finally delivered his most thoughtful movie yet— still using all his notable Tarantinoisms of dialogue, epic length, and gleeful violence— mixed in with a personal message: No matter if you’re a man, woman, white, black, Mexican, old, young, a scoundrel, honorable or just a bystander, we are all at least a little hateful inside—and we all gotta die.
Now keep in mind I did say thoughtful. Don’t confuse that with sensitive. This film, much like any Tarantino film, is literally hard-hitting, deploring, derogatory and a bunch of other two dollar words that describe gruesomeness that I clearly don’t know. We just need to watch the beginning of the film to understand this.
After a series of truly beautiful, desolate shots of the snowy Wyoming Mountains (though the film was mostly shot in neighboring Colorado) we are introduced to bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) sitting atop a pile of dead, frozen bodies as a stagecoach carrying John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and a prisoner chained to his wrist, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Domergue already has a black-eye from the foul-mouthed, hard-as-a-boulder Ruth, and over the course of Chapter One we see Daisy get beaten with elbows, gun butts and straight-up right hooks.
Not all for undeserving reasons, mind you. Though it would be of a lazier filmmaker to give us a fine young lady and mistreat her, unjustly using the time period as a bullet proof vest. Daisy is no fine lady. She’s racist, crass, spits, shoots boogers, and seems to fully embrace her status as a murdered with a $10,000 bounty on her head. Sure, we never see what she did (which may seem odd given Tarantino’s pension for flashbacks). Critics have caused an uproar over this, calling Tarantino a misogynist and bigot. But we are never meant to feel sorry Daisy simply because she’s a woman. And she gives us no reason to. We don’t need to know her life story either. There’s enough on screen to realize this.
Later on in Chapter Two we meet Chris Mannix, a southern rebel also trying to hitch a ride through a blizzard. Needless to say he and Major Warren, a former Union soldier, don’t get along. In their bickering and rivalry is where there is the most contemporary relation, the standoff between black and white. Mirroring the back experience in contemporary America, Warren, a soldier, but still a black man in the west, does what he has to survive and put the white people around him at ease. Mannix, representing the worst of modern Americans refuses to sympathize. There dynamic makes for the most interesting of the movie, offering the complex meat of the tale.
It’s when we get to Minnie’s Haberdashery in Chapter Three were meet the rest of the film’s eight: Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). To go into all these characters individually would ruin the movie and surpass it length, but needless to say Tarantino knows how to cast his movies.
Here is where the meat of the story begins. In the trailer, we are lead to believe it’s a classic who-dunnit, who’s-who sort of tale. Indeed, this is true. On the surface this a Tarantino does “Mouse Trap” type deal. Group of strangers locked in a room by a natural disaster, each getting picked off. Trust me, once Tarantino gets past the first half, which is mostly set-up, Hateful Eight is indeed a mystery movie—if it met “Evil Dead”. After this Tarantino should make a horror movie, as he shows a real knack for mixing buckets of blood and delightful hilarity. It’s not necessarily his most violent movie, but it’s certainly his most darkly comedic, whether it’s physical comedy like people being punched, or just Tarantino’s way with words. I’ve never heard an audience laugh so hard at racial slurs being shouted while bullets are flying, not to mention the most grimly hilarious scene I’ve ever seen in any film ever. For instance, when one character pukes blood onto another I could only recall Raimiesque moments from “Drag Me to Hell” or the “Evil Dead”. Both gut-bustlingly funny and disgusting at the same time. What fun to be had!
A mystery/bloodbath this movie is. Oh, But the movie is so much more. What Tarantino has done is what I’m sure couldn’t hurt to be done in real life and take members from all walks and creeds of society and locked them in a room together. Here their politics, beliefs and histories clash. Except for two people, and they happen to be chained together. Both are sons of bitches, no less.
Ruth and Domergue form the societal backbone of the film. John Ruth is a stubborn, well, asshole. He curses, bosses everyone around and treats Daisy like Moe treating the other two stooges. But he is the man we should all desire to be. Even he goes about in his own foul-mouthed ways he never shies away for standing up for causes he believes in, and thankfully their the good ones. When Mannix tries to break Warren down with hate speech Ruth stands up Warren as man who—though uses the N-word as much as anyone else in the movie (which is sooooo much)—supports emancipation like anyone else would today. Then there’s his bounty hunting methods, perfectly antithesized by Mobray, who points out that mob justice is not justice and that taking someone to hang for their crimes is the true hallmark of justice and therefore a civilized society (well, late 19th century frontier society). John is “The Hangman” and the most civilized in the bunch.
Then there’s Domergue, a nasty wench of a woman. Leigh gives the best performance as the animalistic, scheming Daisy. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. She’s always got a look on her face like she has something up her sleeve. There’s so much to how she moves her eyes and scans her environment. On the surface she’s meant to be the biggest asshole of the lot. The lead villain amongst a gang of miscreants, if you will, both deranged and uncivilized. But she’s also the smartest asshole, who happens to be a woman. Some may say, “Why does the nastiest role go to a woman?” Tarantino replies, “Why can’t it?”
The movie then throws out a series of tests that beg the questions what is good? What is bad? What is justice? What is injustice? All under the motif of an old-school murder mystery that has the subtext of a racial/societal call to action. The ending, where two seemingly at-odds characters have come together to do what was right, is all at once darkly comic, violent, thoughtful and unifying of any final moment of any Tarantino film. And for this movie, it’s just about perfect.
In Tarantino world we are all equal. Meaning we are called horrid epitaphs, beaten and gunned down all in the bloodiest way possible no matter your gender or race. That’s Tarantino justice. As a filmmaker he uses film to make statements on society. Sure, it’s not his best, sometimes making me pull a Monty Python and shout “Get on with it!” But it will go down as his most thought-provoking and misunderstood or his most despised. But it’s certainly his movie for our age. If you can’t agree with that, at least there are buckets of blood and Sam Jackson to put a smile on your face.