Quentin Tarantino’s latest film has the unenviable task of sharing the theaters with the new Star Wars flick, except for the Cinerama dome in L.A. where Disney had it booted in favor of its film. But I’m sure it will do fine. While not his best film, it’s still one of the best of the year. Tarantino returns to his roots making a small scale indy film with only two basic locations. In a way it’s even smaller scale that his first film Reservoir Dogs, which it also has a lot of similarities to. But unlike that film, this is more political, dealing once again with race as one of its themes. Tarantino seems to have become a social justice warrior in his middle age, but he is also a good writer and he understands that you can’t preach, you have to convince. So he sets up his characters as extreme tropes, but then reveals their sides so they become human and understandable people.
Set a few years after the Civil War, the Hateful Eight deals with eight people stranded in a trading post during a blizzard. Every one of them is unlikable in some way. Some are truly revolting. Some are semi-likable until you see they are really terrible. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are no heroes here. Samuel Jackson would appear to be the hero but he’s not even close, even while he serves as a conscience character. All the white people are more or less racists, but Tarantino manages to show that a lot of that is mostly just talk and one character you’d expect to be Jackson’s nemesis ends up being his kind of, sort of pal.
Kurt Russell plays a bounty hunter bringing in his latest catch. He seems the most lawful character, but he also brutally beats his female captive, a vile murderous killer. It’s all good non-PC fun in the Tarantino fashion.
I’ll freely admit I am a Tarantino fan. Even when I don’t agree with some of his depictions of things. His worlds are cartoons. They are sometimes surreal. But his work resonates because it’s honest, even when he’s wrong. Unlike, say Spielberg, who sugar coats his history films and avoids the ugly truth, Tarantino lays it on as thick as he can. He pushes the envelope, yet he does so while making a strong artistic point. In this film he used the Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat model, putting a bunch of disparate people in one place so that they reveal who they really are under pressure. This is the essence of good storytelling. He doesn’t pull any punches and yet, he manages to disarm the audience by being real with them. In an age where racism is an over used trope, QT manages to make unlikable characters entertaining and even human after showing their ugly sides. That’s what sets him apart from most of his peers.
He shows that even creeps are people too.
And I don’t want to forget how cool it is to see him work with Ennio Morricone, one of the last great old school film composers. This film didn’t require a 70mm panavision approach as much as some of his other films, but it’s also wonderful to see a director keep that alive, too. It has an intermission and overture.
I’ll end this by saying every single actor shines in this. Everyone brought their A game here. Walter Goggins is the stand out in my book. Jennifer Jason Lee is also winning accolades.
If you like Tarantino’s work you should like this. In some ways it’s less obnoxious than D’Jango Unchained was. But it will still push some buttons.