"Keeping you at a disadvantage is an advantage I intend to keep."
Quentin Tarantino and the films he makes are designed to get a reaction from the audience. Love him or hate him, you definitely feel something while you watch his films. For me, I'm always a sucker for great characters in a rip-roaring yarn, and that's what Tarantino has almost always given us. Until now. His eighth film, appropriately titled The Hateful Eight, is a film made by someone who hasn't heard the word "no" in over a decade, While it retains elements that have succeeded for the director in the past, they're buried under a pile of stylistic flourishes and a masturbatory level of self-indulgence that borders on idolatry. Whatever restraint kept Tarantino's films from falling into this pit in the past are now gone entirely, and we're left with a three hour celebration of excess that wouldn't have been out of place in a Leni Riefenstahl film.
Perhaps the biggest issue with The Hateful Eight is that I went in expecting a feature length version of Tarantino's masterful basement bar stand-off scene from Inglourious Basterds. That scene stands among the very best the director has orchestrated, and all of the hype surrounding this film made it sound as if it were going to retain that scene's breathless charm. Sadly, it doesn't and by the time the film and its characters settle into Minnie's Haberdashery, where the final two thirds of the film take place, it has almost already run out of steam.
The set-up for the film is simple enough, a band of lawless bounty hunters and thieves find themselves holed up in the aforementioned trading post during a blizzard. As the bodies begin to pile up, however, what once seemed like mere coincidence takes on an air of mystery, and Tarantino tries confining his excess to one setting. I fully understand what it is that he's going for, setting an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit in a post-Antebellum America still rife with racial tensions—with a healthy dose of John Carpenter's The Thing thrown in for good measure—I just don't think it works. It likely works on paper, as an idea, but it doesn't work when it's so protracted and indulgent however.
Shooting the film on 70mm and exhibiting it in Roadshow Edition that runs over three hours with an overture and intermission was a stroke of genius, and the film admittedly looks better than anything the director has done prior. It's just that it's all in service of a story that would have felt thin if it were stretched to two hours, let alone three. Building suspense is one thing, it's maintaining it that's tricky, and Tarantino just doesn't have it in this script. The uneven script also leads to uneven performances, with Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh being the standouts among the ensemble. The weak links prove to be a hammier than necessary Tim Roth, and especially the slack-jawed yokel antics from Walton Goggins' character, whose performance wouldn't seem out of place in a sketch on Hee-Haw.
The overall problem with the film is that Tarantino ignores Hitchcock's law of suspense, mistaking surprise for suspense. The brilliant thing about the basement bar shoot-out in Inglourious Basterds is that we know the players, we know the backstory, and we know that Brad Pitt and his gang are waiting on the floor above in case anything goes wrong—which of course it does. Here, a late film reveal that then doubles the entire story back on itself feels like a cheap way for Tarantino to pull his usual timeline reversal, rather than developing the suspense organically through the characters and their situation. Big surprising reveals are fine when they work, but it feels like a cheat here, more or less demanding that the audience sit through all three punishing hours of the film again just to appreciate it. No thanks.
If there's a more naked emperor in cinema today than Quentin Tarantino, I'm unaware of that person. Tarantino can coast for the rest of his career by making films that appeal only to his fans, and that's fine. Lots of directors do that. He appears to have lost all interest in those who won't indulge him, however, and that's a deadly place for an artist to reach. The Hateful Eight is bold and brassy and it knows it, but it turned me off by constantly rubbing my nose in how edgy it was. Samuel L. Jackson's operatic monologue that brings the first half of the film to a close perfectly sums up the entire endeavor for me; Vicious, mean, and cruel, with a healthy dose of humor meant to shock laughter out of the audience. I remember a time when that kind of thing actually worked in his favor. Now it's like watching a fading nightclub singer trying desperately to rouse the crowd with his old hits after having already lulled them to sleep with his new stuff.
Originally Published on DoubleViking.com